Revisiting 1984: Not a Good Time for the Sikh Community

Revisiting 1984: Not a Good Time for the Sikh Community

by September 11, 2018 0 comments

Rahul Gandhi recently claimed in his speech that the Congress was not involved in the 1984 assaults on the Sikh community, which probably was not a good idea as it only ribbed salt on wounds. Even the evidence points to the contrary.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that his party was not involved in the barbarous assault on the Sikh community after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 flies in the face of truckloads of evidence that was placed before several commissions and committees of inquiry that probed the violence. The testimonies of thousands of witnesses not only established instigation of frenzied mobs by Congress politicians but also the unpardonable paralysis of the administration and the police forces in the national Capital and many other cities in north India while the mobs were running amok.

The anti-Sikh pogrom began almost immediately after the Government announced on the evening of October 31, 1984, that Indira Gandhi had succumbed to the bullets of her assassins. As news of her assassination spread, the Government just packed up. A huge mob of Congress workers that had collected outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences began targeting Sikhs found in the vicinity and this set the trend for a kind of savagery that India had not witnessed since Partition. Their belligerence turned into slogans like Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge (we will avenge blood with blood) in Teen Murti Bhavan where India Gandhi’s body lay in state and this was no empty threat. For the next three days, Congress cadres roamed the national Capital and cities in the north torching Sikh places of worship, establishments and property and the victims had nowhere to go because police stations closed shop and a good part of the police force rendered overt and covert support to Congress hoodlums.

Within hours of the announcement of the death of India Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as Prime Minister and, technically speaking, a new Government was in place, but there was no Government. The state had withered away. In all 2,732 Sikhs were killed in those riots — 2,146 in Delhi and 586 in some other towns in the northern region. The Sikhs suffered loss of homes and property in an unprecedented scale.

The Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, which probed the riots, found shocking evidence of the complicity of the police in the riots in Delhi. Although the violence was spread all over the national Capital, the police had registered only 587 First Information Reports (FIRs) against the mobsters and even of these, the police declared 241 cases as “untraced” and another 253 cases ended in acquittals. Further, 11 FIRs were quashed and in another 11 cases, the accused were discharged. The Commission was told that one case was pending investigation and 42 cases were pending trial.

After weighing the evidence that came before it, the Commission came to the following conclusions: Slogans like Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge were raised by the mobs. Rumours were circulated which had the effect of inciting people against the Sikhs and prompt them to take revenge; there was evidence to show that at some places, mobs indulging in violent attacks had come in Delhi Transport Corporation buses with weapons and inflammable materials like kerosene, petrol etc or were supplied such materials “soon after they were taken to the localities where the Sikhs were to be attacked”; there was evidence to show that “…persons who could organise attacks were contacted and given instructions to kill Sikhs and loot their houses and shops; the attacks were made in a systematic manner and without fear of the police, almost suggesting that they were assured that they would not be harmed while committing those acts and even thereafter”; male members of the Sikh community were taken out of their houses, beaten and burnt alive; and tyres were put round their necks and then set on fire by pouring kerosene or petrol on them.

This is just a brief summary of the graphic description of the cruelty perpetrated by Congress goons that the Commission took note of. As regards those who instigated the murderous, frenzied mobs against the Sikhs, the Commission made the following observations: Large number of affidavits indicate that local Congress (I) leaders and workers had either incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs. But for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened; in many places the riotous mobs consisted of outsiders and bringing them from outside required an organised effort; there is evidence to show that outsiders were shown the houses of the Sikhs; when Sikhs collected at a Gurudwara to defend themselves, the police persuaded them to return to their homes on the assurance that they would be protected; thereafter the mobs took over and the police looked the other way.

Affidavits filed before the Commission show that local political leaders exploited the situation; the affidavits state that Congress leaders and workers were behind the riots; “no other person or organisation…in alleged to have taken part in those incidents”; the slogans raised during the riots also indicate that some of the persons who constituted the mobs were Congress workers or sympathisers. Some material was also put before the commission which indicated that Rajiv Gandhi, who had become Prime Minister soon after his mother’s assassination had told one of this officials that “the Sikhs should be taught a lesson”. The commission however did not pursue this because the evidence available was vague. However, the commission indicted the government for the complicity of the police and administration with the rioters and for the inordinate delay in calling in the army.

The Indian state was in a state of paralysis after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and this is explained by the shocking non-response of the then President Giani Zail Singh to the pleas for protection from the Sikhs. The noted writer Patwant Singh told the Commission that he was part of a delegation of eminent citizens which called on the President on the morning of November 1. They told him he had a moral and Constitutional obligation to end the violence. The President said he “did not have the power” to intervene. The delegation asked Zail Singh if he was saying he had no power to stop anachy and bloodshed? “The President remained silent”. But the delegation persisted and urged the President to speak forcefully to the Prime Minister. Zail Singh said “I will do so in three or four days time”! That was the three or four days in which the mass murder of Sikhs took place.  

There is sufficient evidence to indict the Congress on two counts — for unleashing brutality of the worst kind on members of a religious minority and for the Government’s collaboration with the perpetrators of violence. Rahul Gandhi is only rubbing salt on the wounds of the Sikhs by now claiming that his party was not involved. He must read the Nanavati Commission reports and the affidavits filed before it.

(The writer is Chairman, Prasar Bharati)

Writer: A Surya Prakash

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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