November-December  2004 
Year 11    No.103

Cover Story

Gurdwaras became the first target, the last refuge

Of the 450 gurdwaras in Delhi, three-fourths were damaged. Now most have fortified fences and manned gates

If turbans have become the ubiquitous symbol of the Sikhs, the gurdwaras are the touchstones of its faith. When Indira Gandhi fell to the bullets of her Sikh security guards, however, they became red flags to hordes of enraged rioters.

For the first time in the history of free India, places of worship became the target of mob attacks. Of about 450 gurdwaras in Delhi, some three-quarters were either damaged or destroyed.

In fact, they were the first targets by the 1984 rioters, perhaps to prevent Sikhs from collecting there and putting up a combined resistance.

The first targets also became the last refuge of most Sikh families.

At a time when Sikhs had lost faith in all authorities, gurdwaras became not just a source of strength but also a reaffirmation of the spirit of the Sikh community.

The gurdwaras have come a long way since 1984 and no physical scars remain of the horror attack mounted 20 years ago. But there have been repercussions.

The gurdwaras have shored up their defences, says Bhagat Singh, manager of the Nanavati Commission office at Rakabganj gurdwara, "There used to be a two-feet wall, but 1984 exposed their vulnerability," says Singh. "So the gurdwara committees decided to build high walls Ė a 10 feet wall with an additional two feet grill with sharp edges."

"Today no one can scale these walls. This can be seen in almost all the major gurdwaras of Delhi, including Bangla Sahib."

Same is the case in the gurdwara at the posh New Friends Colony.

On the night of October 31, 1984, the gurdwara was ransacked and set on fire. But today no traces of the dark days remain.

The gurdwara is surrounded by an eight-foot wall and a strong steel gate guards the gate. A fortified wooden door awaits the visitor at the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum.

Security is indeed a priority for the gurdwara management. "The gurdwara gates are manned at all times. There are three shifts of eight hours each. And the guards are armed with barsas, a thick wooden stick with a short sharp-edged weapon on top," says Singh.

What threat do these barsas guard against? Mainly, fear. "If the outside periphery is secure, we donít need to worry about anything," asserts Singh.

Not all are so security conscious. President of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), Prehlad Singh Chandok, says, "There is no need of any precautions. We are not scared of anyone. The only time we had ever taken precautions was at the time of the riots. What was happening was wrong and we had to stop it. But today we are not scared of anyone."

Some gurdwara managers have more faith in their Gurus than security systems. "No one will ever be able to enter this holy place to repeat 1984. Weíll make sure of that," a manager at Seeshganj Sahib asserts.

On being asked if they would use weapons to stop the mischief-makers, he replies angrily, "We donít need any weapons. The men are enough for them."

Thatís the spirit that dominates not just the community but also their religious symbols. The tall sprawling structures all over the city give out only one message.

As Chandok says, "We are not scared of anyone and we wonít let 1984 ever repeat itself." n

(; The Times of India, Nov. 2, 2004)


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