1984 - Where did it begin

The  selective violence against Sikhs in 1984 is a festering sore in the  national psyche and despite scrupulous collection of facts by eminent  citizens from victims and witnesses, no justice has been done.  Numerous reports have found that the violence was not spontaneous, as  claimed by the authorities, but organised by important politicians of  the ruling Congress (I) in collusion with the administration.

The  People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and People’s Union  for Civil Liberties (PUCL) jointly toured affected localities in the  capital from November 1 to 10, 1984, and interacted extensively with  riot victims; police officers; helpful neighbours; army personnel and  political leaders. Their report, “Who  are the Guilty?”  notes that the attacks followed a common pattern on the same dates  and at the same time, which proves that they were master-minded by  powerful organised groups.

A  disturbing aspect was a discernible pattern in the choice of victims  – mostly Sikh males in the age group of 20-50. The sequence of  events was first, rumours were floated on the evening of October 31  that Sikhs were celebrating Indira Gandhi’s death; second,  train-loads of Hindu dead bodies had arrived at Old Delhi station  from Punjab; and third, that the water was poisoned by the Sikhs. The  latter two rumours were later officially denied.

The  rioters arrived in tempo vans, scooters, motor cycles or trucks from  the night of October 31 and morning of November 1 with cans of petrol  and systematically unleashed the violence. Local eye witnesses,  Hindus and Sikhs, said known Congress (I) leaders and workers led and  directed the arsonists to Sikh properties. There were reports of gang  rape of women. Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses were used by  miscreants in some places; how could DTC allow this?

Prominent  persons named by the PUDR-PUCL report include MPs HKL Bhagat, Sajjan  Kumar, Dharam Das Shastri; Jagdish Tytler; corporators Ishwar Singh,  Jagdish Tokas, Babu Ram Sharma, Dr. Ashok Kumar; councillors Lalit  Makan, Bhairava, Mahendra, Mangat Ram, Sukhanlal, Arjan Dass; and  Youth Congress leaders Satbir Singh, Balwant Khokhar, Faiz Mohammad,  Ratan. Many later put pressure on the local police station to release  culprits rounded up for violence or looting; the Congress high  command was reluctant to probe these allegations.

The  role of the Police from October 31 to November 4 ranged from total  absence from the scene or as passive spectators or as directly  abetting the orgy of violence or looting of property. People who went  to lodge FIRs against the devastation and the murders complained that  the police in many areas refused to record their complaints; this was  corroborated by their Hindu neighbours. Some Hindu complainants were  asked by the police why they were protecting Sikhs. The few police  officers who tried to do their duty were frustrated by lack of  cooperation from the top.

Reliable  sources said that soon after the assassination, on the evening of  October 31, a meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s official  residence which was attended by then Lt Governor PG Gavai, Congress  leader ML Fotedar, the Police Commissioner and others. A senior  police officer suggested that the army be called or there would be a  holocaust, but this was ignored. Doordarshan allowed the broadcast of  highly provocative slogans like ‘khoon  ka badla khoon’  (blood for blood) by persons from the crowd of mourners at Teen  Murti.

On  October 31 itself, senior Opposition leaders contacted Ministers and  officers in Delhi Administration to warn of trouble, but Home  Minister PV Narasimha Rao reportedly assured BJP leader Atal Behari  Vajpayee that “everything would be brought under control within a  couple of hours”. Yet the same day, Gautam Kaul, Additional  Commissioner of Police, stood in front of AIIMS and said, “We  cannot deal with the situation of this nature”. Despite this, Kaul  was made Additional Commissioner, Security. MPs like Biju Patnaik,  George Fernandes, Chandra Shekhar, Madhu Dandavate and others had to  go to the Prime Minister’s official residence to get the Army sent  to Trilokpuri.

On  November 1, an opposition MP urged Ministers P Shiv Shankar and  Narasimha Rao to call the Army. They reportedly assured him that the  Army was about to be called and curfew imposed. But till late night  on November 1 there were no signs of either curfew or army and  miscreants rampaged freely before police and para-military pickets.  Despite pleas from two Opposition MPs on November 3, Sikh passengers  arriving in trains from Punjab were attacked; 43 died. Home Secretary  MMK Wali was appointed Lt Governor of Delhi, despite his failure to  protect Sikh lives up to November 3.

Even  when the Army came, the troops were denied scouts and specific  information about trouble spots; no joint control room was set up.  Often the troops were deployed after homes were burnt to cinders and  the massacre over. This explains the low figures of casualties from  Army firing (only 2 deaths and 4 injured in the entire period, as per  Maj Gen JS Jamwal on November 7). The only signs of courage and  initiative in this ominous landscape were shown by Hindu and Muslim  neighbours who helped Sikh families in the affected areas.

All  reports by concerned citizens in the wake of the riots noted a grand  design and planning across the city, even the country. With  hindsight, it seems inconceivable that this was managed in just a few  hours after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The first media reports  of the shooting mentioned two Sikh bodyguards and one clean-shaven  Sikh; it is not clear who identified the clean-shaven Sikh, but very  soon the narrative was changed to just two Sikhs. What is pertinent  is that both assailants threw down their weapons after the shooting  and surrendered. They were shot in cold blood after many hours in  ITBP custody. Beant Singh who knew everything about the conspiracy  died, and Satwant Singh who knew nothing survived.

This  scandalous case of custodial killing was never investigated, or even  booked. Yet it seems obvious that any honest investigation of the  premeditated pogrom of October 31 to November 4, 1984, must begin  with the chain of command that led to the custodial murder of Beant  Singh. Now that senior police officers involved in the investigation  of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination have come on record to express  dissatisfaction with the probe and their own role in it, it may be in  the fitness of things to know if there is more to the assassination  of Indira Gandhi.

First  published
The Pioneer, 11 February 2014 [Title:  Some answers known, others under wraps]

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