Redbridge Sikhs remember thousands killed 30 years since Delhi riots
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Sikhs are remembering the thousands killed in riots in Delhi 30 years ago.
Gurdwara spokesman Upkar Singh Rai, 51, of Seven Kings, visited India in the aftermath of the 1984 riots – which were sparked by the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards.
The assassination came after Indira Gandhi’s Operation Blue Star, which aimed to flush out suspected terrorists from Sikhism’s holiest shrine – The Golden Temple.
The military operation resulted in civilians being killed and the temple being destroyed.
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It is thought her assassination was a revenge attack.
Upkar, who visited Delhi after his uncle and aunt’s home was burnt down by rioters, said: “We saw the aftermath and let’s just say you did not want to be on the streets at the time.”
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His wife also had family who were made homeless after rioters set fire to homes.
Upkar, a volunteer at the Singh Sabha London East in Barking, said: “We had to phone family to let them know whenever we were leaving the house and tell them we were on our way if we were visiting them.”
He added: “I saw hundreds of people who lost their families and it just felt like everything was against you – nobody wanted to associate with Sikh families.”
About 3,000 people were killed in the Delhi riots according to official Indian government figures, with Sikh-owned businesses and gurdwaras being targeted by pro-Indira Gandhi rioters.
“People are only starting to understand the full scale of what happened but it’s still very fresh in the memories of the people who have been affected.
“We were lucky that we didn’t lose anyone in our family because the amount of people that was lost is just astounding.”
Many people within the Sikh community – which is a minority group in the Indian capital – left for the UK as a result of the tragedy.
Gandhi’s killers, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, were shot following the assassination. The latter survived to stand trial and was hanged in 1989.
Sikh Council UK’s Mankamal Singh, of Ilford, said: “It’s extremely important that we remember what happened. Getting justice for the innocent people that died is one thing, but it’s remembering them that keeps that hope alive. Thirty years isn’t that long really and people that were affected are still around and are still affected by it to this day. People lost everything, it was a horrific time and it’s a great shame that it took place at all.”
More than 400 people have been convicted for crimes in relation to the rioting.
Sikh Women’s Alliance chairman Balvinder Kaur Saund, of Chadwell Heath, said: “It’s like the whole community had to pay the price for what happened to Indira Gandhi. It still hurts even 30 years on – it’s still an open wound.”