By the afternoon 31st October 1984 crowds were assembling at AIIMS and roughed up a few Sikhs in the vicinity. The convoy of President Giani Zail Singh who was arriving into Delhi was stoned. After paying homage to Mrs. Gandhi he drove to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and without consulting the cabinet of ministers or chief ministers swore in Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister. Rajiv Gandhi chose to keep the ministry of external affairs and Defense portfolio.
Footnote by Khuswant Singh: In an interview to Onlooker magazine of Bombay, Zail Singh said that if he had appointed any of the three senior cabinet ministers Pranab Mukherjee, PV Narasimha Rao or PC Sethi there was ‘every possibility of a split in Congress party, which would not be in the interest of the country. I also wanted to repay my debt to the Nehru Gandhi dynasty I was after all a protégé of Nehru. I thought Rajiv Gandhi had a modern mind, a clean image and pleasant personality and was known all over the country and abroad.’
As the charged AIIMS mob ‘fanned’ into neighboring locality the police did nothing to check them. By sunset Sikh owned shops in Connaught place were being looted and set on fire. Huge crowds watched the scene, the police, which was present in large numbers, remained passive spectators. Taxis, trucks, three wheelers and scooters driven by Sikhs were wrecked and set alight. Clouds of smoke billowed from different localities (anybodies guess whose houses were on fire).
Neither the central government showed any eagerness to grapple with the situation. It transpired that the Delhi administration was taking orders from leaders of the local Congress party and in states where Congress was in power were asked not to interfere: the Sikhs had to be taught a lesson they would not forget. The initial outburst that which could have been contained was meticulously fanned into vast conflagrations across north India. Violence against the Sikhs was confined to Congress governed states master minded by local Congress leaders and some Congress members of Parliament.
Operation ‘Teach the Sikhs a lesson’ was put in motion on the night of the 31st of October. Rumours were spread that Sikh celebrated the murder of Mrs. Gandhi by dancing bhangra, illuminating homes and distributing sweets. This was followed by rumours that trainloads of murdered Hindus by Sikhs had arrived from Punjab in Delhi. Another rumour spread was that Sikhs had poisoned Delhi’s drinking water.
Footnote by Khuswant Singh: Independent organisations who carried out investigations later proved that this was in fact a lie, instead police vans had gone about announcing through loudspeakers such rumours in certain localities to incite the people.
Meanwhile Doordarshan controlled by the govt. regularly broadcasted Mrs. Gandhi’s body lying in state along with a grieving Rajiv Gandhi and shots of agitated crowds, which bellowed ‘khoon ka badla khoon se lengey’. As a young boy I do remember these slogans audible on TV.
Having prepared the ground, Congress party workers commissioned trucks to bring in villagers from the outlying villages armed with iron rods and gasoline. They were assured police non-interference. It did not need much inducement to egg poor villagers to help themselves to Sikh property. Rape was an additional bonus for these depraved Congress animals.
Sikhs known for marital prowess and owning at least a ‘kripan’ or a sword still had no chance of putting up a resistance, unlike Muslims who live in miserable ‘ghettos’ Sikhs lived amongst Hindus as brothers, blood brothers even. Barely 7.5% of Delhi population they knew not whom to turn for help.
Congress party workers armed with election voting list and addresses made the task of identifying Sikhs easier, directing rioters to arson murder and rape of Sikhs. Thus the saddest period of Indian history where brother turned on brother as written in the Gita marking the advent of ‘Kaliyuga’ on Bharatvarsha was scripted.
Thus, the killing of Sikh brothers began in earnest from the morning of the 1st of November, continued unabated till the end of the funeral of Mrs. Gandhi on the 3rd of November.
100 Sikh Gurudwaras were burnt or destroyed.
Thousands of Sikhs businesses factories and shops were destroyed.
Young Sikh women were gang raped.
Sikhs between the age group of 15 and 50 were brutally murdered (close your eyes and imagine 15 year old kids of our brothers being beaten, dragged to their death as they cry and plead for mercy)
Trains and buses were halted and Sikhs dragged out and killed in plain sight of other passengers. Amongst the Sikhs killed were officers of the armed forces in uniform. Sikhs were made to wear flaming garlands of burning tires.
Government controlled media put the deaths under 400 where as number of Sikh widowed were over 1000 in one particular locality. Besides Delhi Sikh killings took place in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, MP and UP. Worst hit cities were Lucknow, Kanpur, Ranchi and Rourkela. The figure of 10,000 Sikhs killed in Delhi alone would not be an exaggeration (the figure is so devastating considering that I am struggling to get 2000 signatures on a petition. Don’t look at 10,000 as an absolute number start counting and you will see the number of mutilated dead bodies)
Romesh Thappar of the Seminar estimated a murder of 8000 Sikhs in Delhi alone including 30 army officers in uniform-Illustrated Weekly of India 23-9 December 1984.
Footnote by Khuswant Singh: The only people who came out in support of Sikhs were Punjabi Hindus and BJP and RSS party workers and other Hindu organisations.
Over 50,000 Sikhs were lodges in refugees camps (again after 1947) in Delhi and some 30,000 families not individuals fled to the Punjab so at least multiply by 4, which is equal to 120,000 people.
Could all of this have been avoided? Rajiv Gandhi PM responsible for Defense was fully apprised of the situation and the extent of violence. On the 31st of October he called a meeting with the Lt. Governor of Delhi, the Commissioner of Police and ML Fotedar and at this meeting a police official expressed a view that the army should be called otherwise there would be a holocaust. No attention was paid to his suggestion. Same evening PV Narasimha Rao assured Atal Behari Vajpayee that everything would be brought under control but thing just went bad to worse between 31st October and 3rd November and the events and massacres as mentioned above took place. Rajiv Gandhi appealed for peace on radio and television but he took no decision to impose curfew.
For a minute lets compare this with Gujarat riots of 2002 and the decision taken by the leadership.
Section 144 of the IPC, which prohibits assembly of 4 or more persons, was promulgated and curfew imposed on 1st November 1984. Rampaging mobs defied curfew and the police as they went about their killing business; the police stood as mute witness and in fact promoted the violence and loot and participated in sharing the loot. Shoot at sight order were given but not a single round was fired not a single rioter was killed (approximately 500 Hindus were killed by police fire in Gujarat 2002). On the 3rd of November army was deployed only to provide security to foreign dignitaries arriving for the funeral. By then Congress’s blood lust for Sikhs was over.
On the 19th of November 1984 the birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi became infamous statement condoning the murder of Sikhs ‘when a mighty banyan tree falls the earth beneath it is bound to shake’. Rajiv Gandhi had no words of sympathy for the families of the murdered.
1809 people arrested were set free on the intercession of the Congress party. The government refused to institute an enquiry into the Sikh holocaust on the plea that it would be counter productive.
Footnote: In allegation made by Unnikrishnan, MP, that Congress workers were involved in the killing the PM Rajiv Gandhi replied ‘ You have been perpetuating this canard with ulterior motives’ When questioned on this subject by a reporter during Rajiv Gandhi’s campaign in Amethi he replied ‘We have asked the commissioner of police to go into the question and since this police outfit has been checked up they are expected to their job’. The journal did not accept this version and wrote. It is purely out of political compulsion that Rajiv Gandhi refused to order a judicial enquiry into the communal riot in Delhi and the other places as it might have led to the indictment of some members of his own party’.
There were people in India then who believed that a crime of such magnitude if were to swept under the rug especially if it concerned Sikh brothers who have bled for the country on many occasions then it would be injustice at the highest level. Many non-governmental and Hindu organisations started an independent enquiry and to remove bias in the eyes of the people did not include Sikh representative on board. Their findings was published under the name ‘Who are the Guilty’ They were bold enough to include a number of Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet ministers like HKL Bhagat (which the govt declined to persecute due to feigned ill health. He subsequently died a natural death mourned by none), Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar (who till recently as 2009 were being considered for party tickets) and Dharam Kumar Shastri. Other politicians included members of, Delhi Municipal Corporation, Metropolitan council and few youth Congress leaders. 13 Police officers and many constables were charged and a challenge was thrown to these men and their parties to take the charging organisation to court on charges of criminal libel. Not one dared to pick up the gauntlet including the much-esteemed Congress party.
This report was followed by another report by a high-powered commission of enquiry headed by retired CJ of the Supreme Court SM Sikri. The commission published its findings by 18th January 1985. It concluded that ‘the brutal killing of Sikhs sparked by the assassination of Indira Gandhi strongly suggested that the objective was ‘Teach the Sikhs a lesson’. The avoidable and abysmal failure of the administration and the police, instigation by dubious political elements, equivocal role of the media and inertia and apathy shown by the official machinery all lead to the blood bath that followed.
Unashamed the Congress leadership ignored the commission findings and maintained in Parliament that official judicial enquiry will make the position of the Sikhs in Delhi untenable. But due to political pressure Rajiv Gandhi accepted a official judicial enquiry under Justice Rangnath Mishra one-man commission who went about absolving Congress role in the massacre of Sikhs.
Soli Sorabjee provided 6000 affidavits and over a hundred witnesses against politicians and policemen who participated in the murder of Sikhs. While all accusers were subject to cross-questioning not a single cross examination and affidavits verification was allowed on people who deposed on behalf of the Congress. Submission of important police reports was refused. The whole procedure got so murky and political that the Chief Justice Of India withdrew from the commission.
Quoting Justice Tarkunde ‘we did not feel there was any point in our participation any more. This has been a one sided investigation. We were never given a chance to participate in it as we had been promised’
The full text of the Rangnath Mishra report was never released to public. It only estimates the number of people killed and the actions of the police. By action it did its job of exonerating the Congress party and politicians. It recommended appointing another commission to prosecute the people against whom charges have been laid.
After the killing of thousands of Sikhs not one person has been punished till date.