Victimized Sikhs await redress

BALJEET Kaur, 19, is one of the many victims of anti-Sikh riots that broke out after Indira Gandhi's assassination by two Sikh bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984. As Baljeet tearfully recalls, her father's eyes were gouged with iron rods before he was beaten and burned alive by Hindu mobs. Her grandmother is still missing and presumed dead. Her sister's 16-year-old son was also killed. They were some of the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people killed in several days of violence in New Delhi alone.

A year and a half later, Baljeet is more fortunate than most to be a breadwinner. Most of the estimated 1,500 widows of murdered Sikhs rely on the support of the Sikh temples, which give them 250 rupees (about $20) as monthly aid. Without any other means of support, many of the families have returned to ancestral villages in Punjab State.

According H. S. Phoolka, a Sikh lawyer who helped organize the volunteer Citizens' Justice Committee to represent the victims, some 145 families still live in three relief camps set up by volunteer teams.

Almost without exception, all the victimized families whose male members have been killed are still seeking redress and help from the government. Apart from allotting tenement housing, the government has made no other efforts to rehabilitate them, Mr. Phoolka says.

``The government says there will be jobs for them, but so far these are all just on paper,'' he says. ``The tenements also are usually too small -- 25 square yards -- to fit large families.''

Baljeet's family used to live in a tiny, 150-square-yard, two-bedroom tenement on the outskirts of New Delhi. Since the riots, Baljeet, her mother, and two younger sisters have been living in a small 8-by-10-foot tent in Harinagar camp, exposed to the heat and winter cold.

They sleep on the ground without beddings, and all their belongings were drenched when the rains came a few weeks ago, Baljeet says.

Like other victims, Baljeet does not say she wants revenge. But she hopes that the goondas (hoodlums) who killed her father will be put in jail. Some of them came from her neighborhood and are still around.

Lawyer Phoolka says that independent investigations which were conducted in the absence of an official inquiry showed that the riots were organized with the involvement of ruling Congress (I) Party members and in many cases the local police. These reports have been submitted to a government commission that was formed in April 1985 after much domestic pressure.

In March this year, however, Phoolka's volunteer committee withdrew cooperation from the commission, because it disagreed with the latter's decision to hold secret proceedings. The committee is now considering filing individual court cases, Phoolka adds.

``We are aware of the length of time it would take in the Indian legal system. But there are no alternatives. If these women cannot benefit from the results, then perhaps at some future time their children might,'' he concludes. --30--{et

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