The Massacre of 1984 — Criminals at Large
by Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh
[Reproduced from The Sikh Review, Jan 2000]
The 1984 killings (why do we call them riots?) were the largest since the massive obscenity of the 1947 religious slaughter and comparable to the holocausts by invaders centuries earlier. Jawaharlal Nehru said, in one of his letters to Lord Mountbatten dated 22 June, 1947, [quoted in one of the volumes of ‘Transfer of Power’ published by the British Government] that “Human beings have an amazing capacity to endure misfortune. They can bear calamity after calamity, but it is very difficult to have to bear something which can apparently be avoided…. It is curious that when tragedy affects an individual we feel its full force but when multiplied a thousand-fold, our senses are dulled and we become insensitive”. Fifteen years later, there is little or no mention in the media of the 1984 holocaust; it is all forgotten and the suffering victims and their progeny will apparently live unhappily ever after. And when the history of the period is written who knows, whether this carnage will even find a few lines in our constantly ‘re-written’ history.
The nation is aware of the savagery indulged in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Thousands of helpless Sikh men, women and children were pulled out of running trains – including 26 Armed Forces personnel – and butchered by rampaging mobs. We have had a number of committees, commissions and judges making recommendations to render justice handing out the severest strictures on a partisan and criminalised police force and many politicians; but little or no implementation. Throughout the carnage, Delhi’s policemen either made themselves scarce, or stood by while mobs set fire to defenseless human beings. Some participated in the orgy of violence. In Trilokpuri scores of witnesses have testified that policemen were seen supplying diesel oil and petrol to arsonists. These are but a few examples of the perversity of those in majority – and in power.
Sikh educational institutions and several large and many small houses were burnt. Movable property, cash and jewelery were stolen or destroyed. Factories and business premises together with their machinery and stock in trade, were looted, damaged or destroyed. A disturbing feature of this is – according to the report of the Citizens Commission headed by former Chief Justice of India S.M. Sikri – that, for the first time in the history of mob violence in India, a systematic attack was made on places of worship. Of about 400 Gurdwaras in Delhi some three quarters were damaged, desecrated or destroyed (including the one in my locality).
There are a few lines in William Dalrymple’s volume ‘City of Djinns – A year in Delhi’ which warrant mention here. He said: ‘When the outside world first discovered the Trilokpuri massacre, long after the rioters had disappeared, it was Block 32 that dominated the headlines. Dogs were found fighting over piles of purple human entrails. Charred and roasted bodies lay in great heaps in the gullies, kerosene fumes still hung heavy in the air. Piles of hair, cut from the Sikhs before they were burnt alive lay on the verandahs; hacked off limbs clogged the gutters.’
Khushwant Singh in Volume II of his latest edition of the History of the Sikhs states : ‘The general election in December 1984 was fought by the Congress Party on the issue of the integrity of the country. A massive propaganda campaign (expenditure estimated over Rs.300 crores) was launched to convince the electorate that those who had killed Mrs. Gandhi meant to destroy India’s unity. Huge colour posters depicting her body on a bier draped in a saffron saree were splashed all over the country; some showed Sikhs in uniform shooting at her. Other posters showed rolls of barbed wire alongside a slogan: “Will the country’s border finally be moved to your door step?” And beneath it was another slogan: “India could be your vote away from unity or separatism”. Less subtle was one posed in the form of a question: “Why should you feel uncomfortable riding in a taxi driven by a taxi driver who belongs to another state”? If these slogans did not convey the message, those shouted by Rajiv Gandhi’s supporters in his constituency against his Sikh sister-in-law Menaka (the widow of Sanjay Gandhi) were blunt and to the point: ‘Beti hai Sardar ki, Kaum hai ghaddar ki’ (trans. “She is the daughter of Sikh, she belongs to a race of traitors”). No wonder the party won 401 out of the 508 seats contested.
The well-known author Gita Mehta, in her recently published book, titled ‘Snakes and Ladders’ mentions about her experience and perception of the massacre. She says “I accompanied a Sikh woman to the Delhi suburb of Trilokpuri… mistaking me for a member of the dead Prime Minister’s family, people sidled up to me and proudly boasted how many defenseless Sikh families they had killed in their homes ‘how did you know where they lived’? ‘We were given lists with their addresses. And cans of kerosene’. ‘By whom’? ‘You know. Everybody knows’.
“They could not understand my rage. They certainly would not have understood the rage of the Indians flooding into a privately run relief camp with food and clothing for the wounded women and children who had survived the killings, where priests of every faith were trying to comfort the bereaved families, people of every religion trying to alleviate their anguish. All around me I heard the incandescent fury of ordinary Indians that the Ruling Party had kept the Army in barracks, claiming the massacre was a spontaneous outpouring of enraged grief. The treatment given to criminals is the index of morality. A society which shows leniency to criminals – in this context, apparently a designed leniency – becomes a slave of criminals.”