March 14, 2023
Content warning: There are descriptions of violence and sexual assault in this story.
On a morning in November 1984, my father, then 16, stood outside the North Delhi warehouse at which he worked part-time. A freight truck pulled up a few feet away from him. My father recalled that, when the truck’s door opened, over a dozen bodies plopped out onto the ground.
The bodies had belonged to turbaned, Sikh men, including one that my father knew. Most of the men were granthis, or Sikh preachers, who had been burned to death. This is just a small glimpse into the violence that had occurred that year, crescendoing in November, one of the darkest months in Sikh history.
After two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the morning of October 31, 1984 at her home, the Indian government effectively declared a war on Sikhs, even offering bounties for their murder. In the aftermath, between 8,000 and 17,000 Sikhs were killed. But while history celebrates the brave men who protected their communities, it often forgets the stories of the fearless Sikh women who marched right alongside them.