Some answers known, others under wraps
by Sandhya Jain on 11 Feb 2014 11 Comments
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. 

The Pioneer, 11 February 2014

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