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Drugs swamp 1984-riot rehab colony
Harmeet Shah Singh in New Delhi | November 02, 2005 19:51 IST
Widows walk down the narrow steps to a gurdwara basement gallery where walls are crammed with pictures of their loved ones lynched 21 years ago, even as young men wander outside in clusters with zombie, glassy looks.
Blazes of colour flashed into the sky as neighbourhoods marked Diwali but it was a day of mourning for women at Tilak Vihar, as they remembered the dead in the 1984-anti Sikh riots.
At Gurdwara Shahidan, they prayed not just for the lost ones but for many of the second-generation survivors driven to drugs and crime. Narcotics, they say, have swamped the rehabilitation colony, home to thousands of young unschooled, jobless men.
"We lost people from our generation in 1984 and are losing our children to drugs," said Bhagi Kaur, as she knelt down at Gurdwara Shahidan during a special service to mark the 21st anniversary of the carnage.
On November 2, 1984, mobs burnt Bhagi's husband Lachchman Singh alive a day after they lynched her three brothers in their Tirlokpuri home. Her son, Balwant Singh, committed suicide last year because of depression from being jobless.
Colony elders say they are struggling with a second battle -- drugs -- after a "failed" legal quest for justice. "For these young drug addicts, supply is not an issue. You can find them all time popping red and blue pills or sniffing smack outside Gurdwara Shahidan," Gurdwara vice-president Hakam Singh said.
One of the addicts, who requested not to be named, said most of the fellow addicts would buy large quantities of painkillers from local pharmacies. "It's just an overdose for a kick," he said.
Residents say many young addicts have also taken to petty crimes to make up for drug costs. "They steal cables, car stereos and even outdoor water pumps. Many of them are pickpockets," Surjit Singh, a Tilak Vihar resident, said.
Riot victims' counsel H S Phoolka said 2,733 people were killed in Delhi alone as anti-Sikh mobs roamed the city for three days in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. Rights activists say the toll was much higher, nearly 5,000.
"Rehabilitation does not just mean a 50-square yard housing for the victims. It means a whole lot of things - from education to employment to social security," Phoolka said.
He also blamed massive drug dependence in Tilak Vihar on joblessness. "Mothers of these fatherless children had to work to meet both ends. Education for these children became a costly affair for their mothers. The result is before you - an 'unoccupied' second generation started taking drugs," Phoolka said.
All India Riot Relief Committee president Kuldeep Singh Bhogal, one of the campaigners for justice to the Sikh victims, said politicians 'merely used' the riot survivors for their political benefit.
"Small time politicians swept to prominence on the back of these victims. No political leader really worked for them sincerely. Even the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, a resource-rich organisation, offered little employment opportunities for these poor fellows," Bhogal said.