[India has been called a land of a million mutinies, million pogroms would have been more apt. Here are some updates on the 23rd anniversary of the anti-Sikh pogroms in New Delhi]
Hindustan Times: Victims of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 staged a demonstration in the capital on Wednesday seeking the arrest of those still at large despite committing heinous acts of crime against their community.
A large number of victims and their family members, including women and children, assembled at the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat and marched towards the Supreme Court to air their grievances.
They shouted slogans against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar.
According to the protestors, around 10,000 of those accused in various cases of rioting and worse are still roaming freely in Delhi and no action has been taken against them.
The spokesperson of the All India Sikh Conference, Gurcharan Singh Babbar, said: We want the Supreme Court to answer for its failure in taking any action in the case of the perpetrators of the violence of 1984.
“If the Supreme Court can take cognisance of issues like the spread of dengue in Delhi, sealing of commercial enterprises being run from residential premises, the fodder scam of Bihar and pollution in the Yamuna, isn’t the matter of Sikhs important enough for it to take action?”
Babbar said that 5,327 members of the Sikh community were killed in Delhi in the violence that followed the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi on Oct 31, 1984.
The protestors carried placards with slogans like “Is sealing more important than 10,000 killers”, “How will Indian judiciary prove its credibility about 1984 carnage” and “We have lost faith in the judicial system”.
The protestors demanded that all the accused in the 1984 riots cases who are still roaming free be booked and action taken against them. They wanted the government to be made a party in the case in order to ensure its accountability.
Babbar said: “We want that all the affidavits filed before various commissions set up to look into the matter and the reports of these commissions be put before the Supreme Court so that it may take up the matter in a proper manner.”
When asked about the Rs 75 billion package announced by the government last year for the victims of the 1984 violence, Babbar said: “The question today is not of relief. We are not talking of relief. We are talking of justice. We want it soon.”
He claimed that the victims are facing lots of problems in claiming economic relief on account of bureaucratic procedures.
A delegation of the protestors submitted a petition enlisting their problems to the registrar of the Supreme Court.
Times of India: A new book on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the Capital claims that the Ranganath Misra Commission which probed the carnage presented a diluted version of events and also blames the police for the mass killings.
When a Tree Shook Delhi, written by senior editor Manoj Mitta and advocate for many of the victims’ families, H S Phoolka, claims to give an uncensored insight into the events.
It details incidents, particularly in East Delhi, which show complicity of the police in the rioting that broke out after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984.
Beginning with the attack on the then President Giani Zail Singh’s cavalcade in front of AIIMS, the book traces the genesis of the violence through eyewitness accounts and the investigations by Phoolka as counsel for the victims.
“Far from booking aggressors, the police cracked down on the victims — the Sikhs who had been exercising the right of self defence at home,” it says.
“The essence of all the findings on the Block 11 events in Kalyanpuri is unmistakable: that the police colluded with a mob to kill members of a minority community,” says the book.
On the Ranganath Misra Commission constituted to probe the violence, it says “given the circumstances in which it was appointed, the Misra Commission faced a credibility crisis from its very birth. For almost six months, the government had blatantly stone-walled all demands for an inquiry into the carnage”.
October 31, 1984 is a shameful day in Indian history. On this day in the national capital of Delhi, then Prime Minister and one-time dictator Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. The carnage that followed took 2,733 lives, almost all of them Sikhs. Given that the perpetrators have still not been brought to justice, some shameful details deserve mention.
Two respected civil rights organizations — People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) — investigated the circumstances surrounding the carnage in detail and came up with very disturbing findings. Their report, Who are the Guilty? traces the public’s acquiescence in the carnage to two insidious rumors.
First, that train-loads of hundreds of Hindu dead bodies had arrived at Delhi from Punjab, a Sikh majority province. Second, that Sikhs had poisoned drinking water in Delhi. While both the rumors were absolutely false, PUCL and PUDR researchers report that during the carnage they came across policemen spreading these rumors.
To understand how anyone could believe such malicious rumors, one needs to look back at the prevailing unrest in Punjab. Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister was an unmitigated disaster, nowhere more so than in Punjab. Concerned primarily with the electoral performance of the Congress party (which she headed), she often ignored the Sikhs’ legitimate demands and rescinded on her promises to them. Furthermore, to counter political opposition from the Sikhs, she played them against each other and propped up fanatics who later proved to be her nemesis.
In June 1984, Ms. Gandhi ordered a disastrous military assault on a Sikh holy site that left hundreds of civilians and militants dead. Reporting on the army action was prohibited, but later reconstructions of the events and testimonies of survivors revealed large scale human rights violations by the army. Despite this, the lasting imagery was that of violence unleashed by the Sikh militants. In such a scenario, it is not surprising that the anti-Sikh cabal used Ms. Gandhi’s assassination to stereotype and victimize the Sikh community.
Even as rumors were being spread, armed thugs were transported to Sikh localities in Delhi. Young Sikhs were the primary victims of the pogrom. They were dragged out, beaten up and burnt alive. Old men, women and children were usually (but not always) allowed to escape, their houses cleaned of valuables and then set on fire. Some women were also gang raped.
Despite the mayhem, some courageous Hindus and Muslims risked their lives to shelter their Sikh neighbors. In stark contrast, the state’s response ranged from apathy to collusion and active participation. PUCL and PUDR concluded that in the areas most affected, the mobs were led by local Congress party politicians and hoodlums of that locality. Prominent among the Congress thugs were three members of the Indian Parliament — Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler — and Lalit Makan, a local bigwig who was killed for his crimes a year later. While Makan’s killer has been punished, only six people are serving sentence for the massacre of Sikhs. The Congress bigwigs continue to plead innocence and stay free.
Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to dismiss the pogrom saying, When a big tree falls, the ground shakes. P V Narasimha Rao, then Home Minister who later became Prime Minister, was equally inhuman. On August 15 (Indian independence day) this year, some survivors of the pogrom who had testified against the criminals at great personal risk displayed black flags in protest. “Independence Day is not for us … It is for the killers of our husbands who are roaming free on the streets,” said Darshan Kaur, whose husband had been killed at the instigation of HKL Bhagat.
In a democracy, who can the people turn to if the state turns killer?
[Written for the Daily Illini in November 2003]