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Who are the Guilty? Causes and Impact of the Anti Sikh Riots

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Vol – XLIX No. 41, October 11, 2014

It has been thirty years since the brutal anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi. EPW republishes this report of civil society organisations who investigated into the carnage. The report found that the riots were the outcome of a well-organised plan marked by both acts of omission and commission by important politicians from Congress (I) as well as from the administration.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) are noted civil society organisations.

A fact-finding team jointly organised by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and People’s Union for Civil Liber-ties (PUCL) in the course of investigations from November 1 to November 10, has come to the conclusion that the attacks on members of the Sikh Community in Delhi and its suburbs dur-ing the period, far from being a spontaneous expression of “madness” and of popular “grief and anger’ at Indira Gandhi’s assassination as made out to be by the authorities, were the out-come of a well-organised plan marked by acts of both deliberate commission and omission by important politicians of the Congress(I) at the top and by authorities in the administra-tion. Although there was indeed popular shock, grief and anger, the violence that followed was the handiwork of a determined group which was inspired by different sentiments altogether. Experiences of individual members of the fact-finding team as well as their extensive in-terviews with the (i) victims of the riots; (ii) police officers who were expected to sup-press the riots; (iii) neighbours of the victims who tried to protect them; (iv) army person-nel; and (v) political leaders, suggest that the attacks on the Sikhs followed a common pat-tern, whether they took place in Munirka in the south or Mangolpuri in the west, or Trilokpuri in the east. The uniformity in the sequence of events at every spot in such far-flung places pro-ves beyond doubt that the attacks were master-minded by some powerful organised groups. As a senior army officer deployed in Delhi dur-ing the recent riots said: This arson is the work of an expert.” Newspaper reports suggest that this pattern is similar in all Congiess(I) ruled states.

There was also a definite pattern discernible in the choice of the victims made by the assailants. According to the 1971 Census figures Sikh males in the age group 20-50 in Delhi numbr approximately 100,000. The Sikhs who were killed in the recent riots largely belonged to this age group. The official estimate of only 325 killed (including 46 Hindus) till November 7 (Hindustan Times, November 11) sounds ridiculously low compared to the magnitude of arson, lynching and burning alive of people in the resettlement colonies alone. On the basis of information gathered from various sources, including eye-witnesses, survivors and relatives of the dead, the team estimates that the number of those killed is more than a thousand.

From the team’s talks with the victims and their neighbours in almost every riot-hit,spot, it could reconstruct the sequence of events, which followed a stereotyped pattern every-where. The first phase was marked by the floating of a set of rumours on the evening of October 31, following the announcement of Indira Gandhi’s death. The rumours were three. First, Sikhs were distributing sweets and lighting lamps to celebrate Indira Gandhi’s death. (Later during the team’s investigations when it asked the residents of the affected localities whether anyone from among them had actually seen such things, almost everyone admitted that they had not personally witnessed them), but had heard from someone else. It did however come across a few people who while expressing revulsion at the incidents of assaults on the Sikhs, added that they had seen in some places some Sikhs expressing their glee at Indira Gandhi’s death by demonstrative ges-tures. It has reports that some isolated groups of non-Sikhs also exhibited similar behaviour From the information that it has gathered from various sources, the team’s impression is that such cases were few and isolated. The second rumour was that train-loads of hundreds of Hindu dead bodies had arrived at Old Delhi Station from Punjab. Third, that water was poisoned by the Sikhs. As for the two latter rumours, the team came across evidence of policemen in vans touring certain localities and announcing through loudspeakers the arrival of the train and the poisoning of water. In cer-tain areas, it heard that police officials had rung up residents advising them not to drink water. These rumours (the last two were officially repudiated later) contributed to the shaping of a public mind that acquiesced in the attacks and murders that took place soon after.

The second phase began with the arrival of groups of armed young people in tempo vans, scooters, motorcycles or trucks from the night of October 31 and morning of November 1 at various places like Munirka, Saket, South Ex-tension, Lajpat Nagar, Bhogal, Jangpura and Ashram in the south and south-east; the Con-naught Circus shopping area in the centre and later the trans-Jamuna colonies and resettle-ment colonies in other areas in the north. With cans of petrol they went around the localities and systematically set fire to Sikh houses, shops and gurudwaras. The team was told by the local eye-witnesses in all the areas it visited, that well known Congress(I) leaders and workers (their names ait to be found in the Annexures to the team’s report) led and directed the arsonists and that local cadres of the Congress(I) identified the Sikh houses and shops. A senior police of-ficial who for understandable reasons does not want to be named, pointed out: The shop signs are either in Hindi or English. How do you ex-pect the illiterate arsonists to know whether these shops belonged to Hindus or Sikhs, unless they were identified to them by some one, who is either educated or a local person?” In some areas, like Trilokpuri, Mangolpuri. and the trans-Jamuna colonies, the arsonists consisted of Gujjar or Jat farmers from neighbouring villages, and were accompanied by local resi-dents, some of whom again were Congress(I) activists. In these areas, the team was told, Con-gress(I) followers of the Bhangi caste (belong-ing to the scheduled caste community) took part in the looting. In South Delhi, buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) were used by the miscreants to move from place to place in their murderous journey. How could the DTC allow its buses to be used by criminals?

The attacks in the resettlement colonies (e g, Trilokpuri in the trans-Jamuna area and Mangolpuri in the west) where the maximum number of murders took place again displayed the same pattern. The targets were primarily young Sikhs. They were dragged out, beaten up and then burnt alive. While old men, women and children were generally allowed to escape, their houses were set on fire after the looting of valuables. Documents pertaining to their legal possession of the houses were also burnt. In some areas of Mangolpuri the team heard from the survivors that even children were not spared. The team also came across reports of gang-rape of women. The orgy of destruction embraced a variety of property ranging from shops, factories, houses to gurudwaras and schools belonging to the Sikhs, In all the af-fected spots, a calculated attempt to terrorise the people was evident in the common tendency among the assailants to burn alive the Sikhs on public roads. Even five days after the in-cidents, on November 6, in the course of one of its regular visit to Mangolpuri the team found that although the ashes had been cleared, the pavement in front of the Congress(l) office was still blotched with burnt patches, which the local people had earlier pointed out as spots where four Sikhs were burnt alive.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC COMPOSITION OF ASSAILANTS

The team members on the basis of extensive interviews in different parts of the city were able to piece together the characteristics of the mobs that were responsible for the looting, arson and killings.

In some cases the mobs were brought from outside the locality (where they were set loose by local political leaders) and Jats and Gujjars from neighbouring villages. They were trans-ported in vehicles. A large number of Scheduled Caste people were also a part of the mob.

More important, in the areas which were most affected, such as Trilokpuri, Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri, the mobs were led by local Congress(I) politicians and hoodlums of that locality. These areas, it will be recalled, were set up in the ubran resettlement drive initiated by the Congress(I), and have since been active support bases of the Congress(I). These areas have also in the recent past provided the Congress(I) rallies in the city substantial numerical support. In other words, there exists in such areas an established organisational network through which masses are mobilised for demon-stration of Congress(I)’s ostensible popular sup-port. A veteren politician based in Delhi put it very crisply when he said that these resettle-ment colonies “are the kept [rakhel] of the Congress(I)”.

The participation of the Jats and Gujjars from the so-called “urban villages” of Delhi played a very strong role in adding to the numbers of rioters and in aiding the riots, murders and looting. They were particularly dominant in west and south Delhi. Most of these villagers who once owned land in Ber Sarai, Munirka, and Mohammadpur, for in-stance made a tidy sum of money after their land was taken away for the urban expansion of New Delhi. The land owned by these villagers was generally of a very poor quality with no irrigational facilities. For this reason the villagers in these areas had to augment their resources through non-agriculturual means, not least of them being brigandage. After their lands were acquired by the government they suddenly became prosperous and began to ex-ert themselves politically as well. It is a known fact that if one is to make any headway in an election the Gujjars and Jats of these areas have to be one’s side. Unfortunately, much of the police force which is stationed in this area and around is drawn from these communities. For this reason, on various occasions there has been a noticeable complicity in these areas between the criminals and the police. This truth was brought home starkly during the recent riots.

As for the Scheduled Caste communites who were displaced due to the acquisition of land for ubran expansion those from the Valmiki community utilised the benefits of the reser-vation policy and came into the city where they found jobs in the police, UPSC, etc. The Bhangis went into the corporation, while the third major group, the Dhanaks, considered the lowest caste, are engaged in a variety of odd jobs. Among the Scheduled Caste communities living in the resettlement colonies, the Valmikis are predominantly supporters of Jagjivan Ram, while the Bhangis are solid supporters of Con-gress(l). Information gathered by the team from the trouble spots in these areas suggests that the Bhangis—many of them working as sweep-ers in the corporation—comprised the bulk of the local miscreants who attacked the Sikhs.

A few words on the composition of Delhi’s population may be relevant at this point. Hindus comprise 83 per cent of Delhi’s popula-tion. The present Sikh population is around 7.5 per cent (an estimated 500,000 people). A majority of them settled in Delhi after the parti-tion, before which their population was only 1.2 per cent of the total population of the city.

ROLE OF POLICE

All through the period from October 31 to November 4—the height of the riots—the police all over the city uniformly betrayed a common behavioural pattern, marked by
(i) total absence from the scene; or (ii) a role of passive spectators; or (iii) direct participa-tion or abetment in the orgy of violence against the Sikhs. On November 1, when the team toured the Lajpat Nagar area it found the police conspicuous by its absence while Sikhs’ shops were being set on fire and looted. Young people armed with swords, daggers, spears, steel tri-shuls, and iron rods were ruling the roads. The only sign of police presence was a police jeep, which obstructed a peace procession brought out by a few concerned citizens (who later organised themselves into the Nagarik Ekta Manch) on the evening of November 1. When the procession was on its way to the Lajpat Nagar’main market, a police inspector from the van stopped the procession, warned it not to proceed reminding its members that the city was under curfew and Section 144. When leaders of the procession wanted to know from the police inspector why the arsonists and rioters were not being dispersed if curfew was on, he gave no reply and warned instead that the pro-cessionists could go to the Lajpat Nagar market at their own risk. At the Lajpat Nagar market, leaders of the procession sought to pacify the mob by pointing out that innocent Sikhs were not responsible for Indira Gandhi’s assassina-tion and should be protected from the Attacks. They raised the slogan: “Hindu-Sikh bhai bhai!” As the crowd began to listen to the speeches made by the procession leaders, organised attempts were made by certain groups from among them to shout down the speakers, by raising the slogan: “Indira Gandhi zindabad! Hindu-Hindu bhai bhai”. It is significant that wherever the team went, it did not find any sign of mourning or grief on the faces of those who were participting in the looting and burning. Attempts to pacify them by the peace marchers were met with derisive laughter. Listening to their raucous exultation and looking at their gleeful faces, one would have thought it was a festival, but for the arson and loot that was going on.

In the resettlement colonies, the police came out from their passive role and directly par-ticipated in the violence against the Sikhs. The team was told by survivors that at the first signs of tension those who felt threatened personal-ly went to the nearby police stations to seek their intervention. But the police did not res-pond. In Trilokpuri, the police reportedly ac-companied the arsonists and provided them with diesel from their jeeps. The Station House Officer (SHO) of Kalyanpuri police station, under which Trilokpuri falls, withdrew the con-stables who were on duty there when Sikh girls were being raped. Much later, the higher authorities took action against the SHO and his two colleagues by suspending and arresting them for criminal negligence of duties. In Sultanpuri, the SHO, one Bhatti, is alleged to have killed two Sikhs and helped the mob in disarming those Sikhs who tried to resist the mob.

Several residents of Loni Road in the trans-Jamuna area, who were camping at Shakarpur when the team interviewed them on November 7, said that the police announced on loud-speakers two or three times at night on November that they would not be responsi-ble for the safety of the Sikhs and that the latter must look after themselves. One woman from the same area said she had seen a police jeep full of men and that the stoning of Sikh shops was conducted from the jeep. Another resident from the same road said that the police had incited the looting of a watch shop before it was burnt.

In Kotla Mubarakpur, a domestic worker told the team members that the police had encourag-ed the looting. Later they were reported to have said to the looters; “We gave you 36 hours. Had we given the Sikhs that amount of time, they would have killed every Hindu.”

In the Kingsway Camp, residents claimed that 70 per cent of the loot was to be found in the police lines, suggesting that the police took a leading role in the plundering.

When after the destruction and murders, people went to complain and file FIRs, the police in many areas refused to record their complaints, according to information gathered from the Hindu neighbours of the victims. A respected Sikh professional whose house was burned on 1st November was not able to register an FIR despite all efforts. In Mangolpuri the team was told that a police officer asked the Hindu complainants why they were protecting sikhs and advised them to look after the safe-ty of Hindus. Typical was the experience of Dharam Raj Pawar and Rajvir Pawar, two resi-dents of Ber Sarai, who on November 1, went to Sector IV, R K Puram police station to ask for protection of a Sikh family (which till then was being sheltered by Hindu neighbours from impending attacks by a mob led by a Con-gress(I) man, Jagdish Tokas). The officer in charge of the police station reportedly told them that he could not offer any help. Two constables later said to them: “You being Jats should have killed those Sikhs. What are you doing here? Don’t you know a train has arrived from Punjab carrying bodies of massacred Hindus?”

A few individual police officials who did try to intervene and stop the riots found their ef-forts frustrated primarily through lack of co-operation from the top. One senior officer told the team that when on October 31 and November 1 he received reports about some 2,000 to 3,000 people moving around the city in scooters and motorcycles without helmets, he contacted the CID seeking information from them regarding the identity of these people. Till November 7, when we met him, he had not received any report from the CID.

While analysing the role of the police dur-ing the crucial period, the responsibility of those in position of authority at the top, namely the Home Ministry, cannot be ignored. The Home Minister, Narasimha Rao, who was in-ducted into the new Cabinet by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi soon after Indira Gandhi’s death, was empowered in his capacity as Home Minister, to deploy the para-military forces (if the Delhi police force was found to be inade-quate or inefficient) to quell the violence. Rao is not a new incumbent who is unaware of the procedural technicalities. Why did Rao, with his past experience as a Home Minuter in the previous cabinet, fail to take the necessary steps and summon the forces available to him to nip in bud the communal elements that organised the riots?

ROLE OF ADMINISTRATION

Men at the top in the administration and the ruling party displayed repeatedly a Curious lack of concern often bordering on deliberate negligence of duty and responsibility through-out the period October 31 to November 4. From the team’s talks with various opposition party leaders and prominent citizens it found that many among them had got in touch with senior Ministers as well as people in the Delhi ad-ministration on October 31 itself, warning of impending trouble following the announcement of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The newly sworn in Home Minister Narasimha Rao was said to have assured BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee on October 31 evening that “every-thing would be brought under control within a couple of hours” (The Statesman, November 10). Yet, at the same time on the same day, Gautam Kaul, Additional Commissioner of Police in front of the All India Medical In-stitute, referring to the disturbances which were just breaking out, said: “We cannot deal with the situation of this nature” (Indian Express, November 1). Strangely enough, even after this, Kaul has been made Additional Commissioner, Security. In spite of such warnings given well in advance, those in positions of authority did not seem to bother to take any firm step.

Soon after the assassination, the team heard from a reliable source, a meeting was held at 1, Safdarjung Road, the Prime Minister’s offi-cial residence in which the Lt Governor P G Gavai, a Congress(I) leader M L Fotedar and the Police Commissioner, among others took part. A senior police officer present at this meeting expressed the view thai the army should be called as otherwise there would be a holocaust. No attention was paid to the view.

On November 1, when almost all of Delhi was aflame, an opposition MP rang up Shiv Shankar, a Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s new cabinet, and the Home Minister, Narasimha Rao, to inform them about the situation in the city and the need for army action. The Ministers were reported to have assured him that army was about to be called and curfew would be imposed. (Several citizens including some senior governmental Officials went to the President of India on the afternoon of November 1, and they were told that the govern-ment was still considering whether to call out the army.) But the team’s experience on November 1 tells a different story. As already mentioned earlier, till late night there were no signs of either curfew or army, while miscreants were on the rampage in front of the police. In the heart of the city, Connaught Circus, Sikh-owned shops were being set on fire right under the nose of heavy para-military and police pickets. The team later heard that the DC of Faridabad had asked for army on November 1, but troops arrived only on November 3.

On November 2, although the newspapers that day announced three official measures: (i) clamping of an indefinite curfew; (ii) shoot at sight orders; and (iii) deployment of army since 2 pm the previous day, when the team went around South Delhi in the afternoon of November 2, it found that the miscreants were not only at large, but had swelled in numbers and had become more defiant. In the Lajpat Nagar market, while police pickets sat by idly, hundreds of young men, armed with swords, trishuls and iron rods, blocked the main road. Around 2 pm an army convoy passed through the road. The miscreants did not scamper or panic. They merely made way for the convoy to pass by temporarily retreating to the by-lanes, and regrouped themsleves as soon as the con-voy left and began intimidating a peace march that had arrived on the spot.

On the morning of November 2,8.30 am on-wards, two opposition MPs repeatedly re-quested both Narasimha Rao and Shiv Shankar to provide army protection to trains carrying sikh passengers arriving from Punjab. No troops were sent, with the result that every train was left at the mercy of gangsters who drag-ged out Sikhs from the incoming train compart-ments, lynched them, threw their bodies on the platforms or the railway tracks and set on fire many. Newspapers report that 43 persons were killed. This was denied by Dordarshan in the evening. Visiting the Tughlakabad station around 3.30 pm the Statesman reporter saw “two bodies still smouldering on the platforms, right in front of the armed force standing on the opposite platform across the tracks” (November 3). The troops had either arrived after the incident or the incident took place in front of the troops who did not intervene. While analysing the role of the administra-tion, it is not enough to blame the Delhi ad-ministration and the bureaucrats only. The Lt Governor, Gavai, who was in charge of ad-ministration of Delhi during the period under review and who has been replaced now, could not have acted on his own—whether in regard to acts of commission or omission. Both the Delhi administration and the Union Cabinet Ministers, including the’ Home Minister, were well-informed of the sequence of events begin-ning from the evening of October 31 (as is evi-dent from the report of communication bet-ween the opposition leaders and the Cabinet Ministers as recorded earlier). The team is left wondering whether the Union Ministers failed to direct the Lt Governor to take action, or did the Ministers direct and the Lt Governor refuse to abide by their directives? In that case, should not the Union government punish the Lt Governor? But the team was merely told on November 4 that Gavai had “proceeded on leave” and that M M K Wali had taken over. What is further intriguing is the appointment of Wali as the Lt Governor. Wali was the Home Secretary before his new appointment.

The record of what happened in Delhi from October 31 to November 3 (the eve of Wali’s appoint-ment) is sufficient to prove the failure of the Home Ministry administrative machinery in suppressing the riots. The team wonders why the former Home Secretary, in spite of the pro-ven failure of an administration of which he was a leading component, has been appointed the Lt Governor. As. evident from its review of official relief operations (see below), Wali’s ad-ministration seems to continue the same policy of callousness and inefficiency towards the refugees as was demonstrated past towards the Sikh victims during the riots.

ROLE OF ARMY

Enquiries made by the team at various quarters ranging from the affected localities to army sources led it to two questions. First, why was there a delay in calling out the troops? Second, even when the army was called in, why were they not effective in imposing a curfew and curbing the violence?

The authorities at the top, including the four Ministers and senior officials of the Delhi ad-ministration, were repeatedly informed about the exact situation in the city and its outskirts from the evening of October 31. Prominent citizens, VIPs and members of the opposition parties and people from affected localities both phoned and personally went and informed these authorities. Yet during the seven valuable hours, between the time of the assassination and the time of the news of the death was made public, no security measures were taken.

As a senior government servant put it, there are standing instructions on dealing with such situations. The SP and DCs have powers under the Criminal Procedure Code (Sections 130-131) to call in the armed forces in aid to civil powers. Further, the para-military troops, including the Delhi Armed Police, CRPF are always avail-able for such a situation. According to the team’s information, one brigade was available at Delhi which could have been requisitioned immediately.

The troops were alerted on the afternoon of the 31st. This means that within a few hours brigades from Meerut and Agra could have ar-rived at Delhi by the night of the 31st. As senior army officers put it, it is not the numerical strength of troops that is the crucial factor for imposing curfew. The crucial factor is clarity of intent and firm and clear instructions.

Despite announcements in the papers, the AIR and Doordarshan about shoot at sight orders and imposition of curfew the troops were left without specific information from the police on the exact locations of the riots. No joint control room was set up. In contrast, only a few days later, the authorities did not find any difficulty in moving a full brigade to the Indian Army consisting of 3,000 men and another 1,000 personnel from the navy and the air force to line up the route of Indira Gandhi’s funeral.

The procedure to call in troops is simple; The Lt Governor has to inform the Home Minister of the law and order situation and the latter informs the Defence Minister (Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi was holding this portfolio) who gets in touch with the army to call in the troops.

An essential ingredient for successful joint army-civilian administration operation is the setting up of a joint control room. During 1947 riots, when Lord Mountbatten was requested by Jawaharlal Nehru to control the communal situation, the former set up a joint control room at Rashtrapati Bhavan in order to co-ordinate the efforts of the,civil administration and the armed forces. This precedent was quoted to Narasimha. Rao by an elderly resi-dent of Delhi, who is well-versed in army operations. Yet, from October 31 to November 4 (the peak period of the riots which according to old-timers were reminiscent of the 1947 riots in Delhi) no effort was made to set up a joint con-trol room. The Commissioner of Police was operating from his office at ITO Police head-quarters. The Army area commander was at the Dhaula Kuan cantonment, and the Lt Governor was at Raj Nivas. As a result, even after the deployment of troops, army people constant-ly complained about lack of information and co-operation from the police regarding the areas of tension. Even with the imposition of curfew, there were no authorities to implement it. An army major complained to a Delhi news reporter on November 4 that his men were not only getting no co-operation from the Shakar-pur police station, but were often being deliberately misled by the police. The same reporter during a tour of the city on November 2, came across army personnel ranging from JCOs to majors, roaming around pathetically after having lost touch either with headquarters or with their formations.

Army officers complained that they were not provided with scouts by the police to lead them to the trouble spots. In one instance a major who was asking for directions was carrying a map dated 1974, where the resettlement col-onies (where the violence reached its peak dur-ing the period under survey) did not figure.

One army source told the team members that the deployment of troops followed a strange pattern. They were deployed by the civil authorities in stages, and in almost every case they were deployed after houses in the trouble spots had been burnt to cinders and the massacre was over. This explains the limited number of army firings (12) and the casualties from army firings (2 deaths and 4 injured) dur-ing the entire period (Major-Gen J S Jamwal’s statement of November 7, Indian Express, November 8). The deployment reached full strength only after the 3,000 troops and vehicles reserved for the funeral were made available to curb the violence. The entire nature of using the army as reveal-ed from the above sequence of events compels the team to suspect whether there was not s deliberate design to keep the army ineffective even after it was called in—and that too follow-ing a long interval during which the arson, looting and massacre were allowed to continue, sometimes with the direct connivance of the local police force.

Whatever might have been the motive for such a curious manner of utilising the army and whoever might have been responsible for reduc-ing it to an impotent observer, the effects of such a policy have been quite disastrous for the morale of the army. Every army person the team talked to expressed anguish over the way that the army’s authority was being undermin-ed. The 6th report of the National Police Com-mission has stated: “We note with concern the growing tendency on the part of the district authorities to seek instructors from higher quarters where none are necessary.’ It appears that the civilian administrators in Delhi although armed adequately with powers under the law to use the army to suppress distur bances, did not care to use those powers.

The question that needs to be probed is: why did the civil administration betray a set pattern of acts of omission, marked by a consistent failure to take steps against erring policemen and a stubborn refusal to deploy the army pro-perly? Further, an analysis of the role of the army during the period under survey leaves a few questions that need to be answered by the people in positions of authority. According to the procedure laid down under the law, the Lt Governor can request the Home Minister who in turn can ask the Defence Minister for army deployment. On October 31, the new cabinet had already been sworn in with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi himself in charge of Defence and Narasimha Rao as the Home Minister. With the growing deterioration in the law and order situation in Delhi, when by November 1 the local police machinery had proved its failure to control the situation— either through negligence or connivance with the rioters—did the Lt Governor request the Home Ministry for army aid? Even if he did not, was it not the responsibility of the Home Minister to deploy the army? Since the Prime Minster had taken over the Defence portfolio, was it not his responsibility to deploy the army as soon as he realised that the police had failed (which was quite evident by November 1)? By removing a few civilian ad-ministrators (like Gavai) or police officers (like the Delhi Police Commissioner, Subhash Tandon) how can the government at the Centre absolve itself of the blame of neglecting its obligations to the citizens and its responsibili-ty to maintain law and order—and this in spite of several warnings to the effect that Hindu-Sikh riot was bound to take place?

The experience of the team members gives rise to the suspicion that both the administra-tion and the Cabinet might have abdicated their responsibility and that extra-administrative forces were sterling the deployment and opera-tion of troops. On November 3, a group of con-cerned citizens visited Trilokpuri where they were requested by panic-stricken survivors of a widespread holocaust (described later) to in-tervene on their behalf and seek army protec-tion. They tried, to get in touch with various people both in the administration and the Cabinet to convey to them the request of the Trilokpuri victims. No one was available, either in their offices or homes.

Hoping that opposition MPs might have a better access to the authorities the group ap-proached Biju Patnaik, George Fernandes, Chandra Sekhar and Madhu Dandavate among others—all of whom told the group that their repeated attempts to contact Ministers and of-ficials had yielded no results. In a final desperate move, accompanied by Dandavate, they went to 1, Safdarjung Road, the Prime Minister’s official residence, and managed to meet a Congress(I) MP, Arun Nehru. When the group conveyed to him the request of the Trilokpuri residents, he said that he would send a “wireless- message” for army deployment. Only after this, were troops sent to Trilokpuri—but that also again merely for patrolling.

ROLE OF CONORESS(I)

The surmise that during the period under survey the legitimate authorities were super-seded and decision-making powers were assum-ed by a few individual Congress(I) leaders is confirmed not only by the above mentioned in-cident, but also the experience of residents in the riot-hit areas. The team was told both by Hindus and Sikhs—many among the latter Congress(I) supporters—that certain Con-grtss(I) leaders played a decisive role in organis-ing the riots. Residents of Mangolpuri told the team that they saw Ishwar Singh, a Congress(I) corporator among many others (their names are given as annexure to the team’s report) active-ly participating in the orgy of violence. All these people were described by the local residents as lieutenants of the Congress(l) MP from the area, Sajjan Kumar. Similarly in Anand Parbat, Congress(I) councillors like Bhairava, Mahen-dra and Mangat Ram, considered to be loyal followers of the Congress(I) MP Dharamdas Shastri, were named as the main culprits. In Prakash Nagar, Congress(I) people were found carrying voters’ lists to identify Sikh households. In the Gandhinagar area again, a local Congress(I) councillor Sukhanlal was identified by the victims as the main leader of the assailants. Escapees from the area whom the team met at the Shakarpur relief camp on November 6 blamed the Congress(I) MP from the area, K H L Bhagat, for having master-minded the riots. On November 1, Satbir Singh (Jat) a Youth Congress(I) leader brought buses filled with people from Ber Sarai to the Sri Guru Harkishan Public School at Munirka and burnt the school building and buses and con-tinued looting and assaults on Sikhs the whole night. Another group of miscreants led by Jagdish Tokas, a Congress(I) corporator join-ed the above group in looting and assaults. In the Safdurjung-Kidwai Nagar area of south Delhi, eyewitness accounts by those who stoood in front of All India Medical Institute from where Indira Gandhi’s body was taken out in procession on the evening of October 31, con-firmed the presence of the Congress(I) coun-cillor of the area, Arjan Dass, at the time when attaks on Sikh pedestrians, bus drivers and conductors began.

The allegations against these individuals repeatedly voiced by the residents of the respec-tive localities which the team visited, cannot be dismissed as politically motivated propaganda, since many among the Sikhs who accused them of complicity in the riots, had been traditionally Congress(I) voters. Sufferers from Trilokpuri and Mangolpuri resettlement colonies whom the team met looked dazed and uncomprehen-ding when they said: “We were allotted these houses here by Indiraji. We have always voted for her party. Why were we attacked?”

Additional indications of the involvement of the above-mentioned Congress(I) leaders in the riots was provided later when the team heard that the Congress(I) MPs from the respective areas were putting pressure on the local police station to release the culprits who had been rounded up on November 3/4. On November 5, Dharmadas Shastri went to the Karol Bagh police station to protest against police “misbehaviour” with those who were found in possession of looted property (Indian Express, November 6), Shastri however dismissed the report as false. At about the same time, H K L Bhagat, another Congress(I) MP, was reported to be trying to secure the release of several criminals who had been arrested by the Gandhinagar police station. Describing the dilemma before the police, a senior police of-ficial said to the team members: “Sher pinjre se nikal diya: phir kahte hain pakad ke le ao!” (First the tigers are let loose from their cages and then we are ordered to round them up.) When asked who was releasing them, he gave a knowing smile.

The same official told the team that when some Congress(I) leaders came to a police sta-tion seeking the release of their followers, they were asked to accompany a police party in a raid on some houses for recovery of looted pro-perty. But these leaders refused when they were told that they would have to be “witnesses.

The team also heard of cases where even Sikhs close to the Congress(I) leaders were not spared. In Sajjan Kumar’s house at Paschim-puri on November 6, the “team members were introduced to an elderly Sikh gentleman who claimed to be an old Congressman whose shop was burnt by miscreants. He said that he knew who the culprits were. When the team members asked him why he did not file a complaint with the police, he said he would do it at the right time. Sajjan Kumar’s secretary drew the team members aside and dropped a hint that the RSS workers had been behind the arson. He however could not name any particular RSS leader or activist. Charanjit Singh, a Sikh Congress(I) MP from Delhi, suffered a loss of Rs 10 crore when his Pure Drinks factories were burnt down. Narrating his experience Singh said: “I telephoned the Lt Governor and the police several times, telling them that mobs were burn-ing our factories. I was told that the force would be arriving but that never happened.” He add-ed that he had been a “failure” to his con-stitutents, since all assistance “was denied to him” (Statesman, November l0)

The administration appears to have been persuaded by the decision-makers at the top to treat the alleged criminals with kid gloves. In-quiries at some of the police stations in the af-fected areas revealed that the police had an-nounced that those in possession of looted pro-perty should submit them within a stipulated time period and that they would be let off if they did so. A Senior Police Officer simply described this to us as a “Voluntary Disclosure Scheme”. This is a strange way of dispensing justice. Restoration of the booty by the looters is no substitute for their punishment. In the absence of any convincing explanation on the part of the authorities for this extraordinarily queer way of dealing with criminals, the team is left with the suspicion that there is a calculated design by some influential forces to protect them.

The Congress(I) High Command’s reluctance to probe into the allegations against their own councillors and other leaders further lends credence to the suspicions voiced above. Even Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi seems to dismiss the serious charges being levelled against his party men. On November 6, when Charan Singh, who accompanied a team of opposition leaders in a deputation to Gandhi, drew his at-tention to the reports of Congress(I) men pressurising the police to get their followers released, which had appeared in the Indian Ex-press some days back, Gandhi said that he had heard about it and then retorted that the Indian Express was the opposition’s paper just as the National Herald was Congress(I)’s. The next day the AICC(I) headquarters came out with a statement saying that the allegations were utterly malicious. On November 8 however, Gandhi asked his senior party colleagues to probe into every allegation of Congress(I) workers’ involvement in the violent incidents. But till today, no one knows what will be the nature of the “probe”.

In fact G K Moopanar, who is in charge of the organisation in the AICC(I), told newsmen on November 9 that he had not received any intimation for any such inquiry so far.

It is difficult to believe that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was unaware of the activities of important and well known members of his party for full five days (from October 31 to November 5). Gandhi had been the General Secretary of AICC(I) since 1982 and in charge of reorganising his party. He had been presiding over training camps for Congress(I)’workers at various places. The team wonders how after all these training programmes the cadres of Indira Gandhi’s party could go on such a murderous rampage.

ROLE OF MEDIA AND OPPOSITION

Although the team does not intend at this stage to go into the role of the media during the riots, a few words in this connection may not be out of place. The first day’s evening bulletins (October 31) brought out by different newspaper establishments stated that there were “two Sikhs and one clean shaven Sikh” among the assailants. The reporters did not clarify whether the news was from official or unofficial sources. Nor was it clear how a “clean shaven Sikh” could be identified as a Sikh. In later reports the next day and the following days, we were told that only two assailants, both Sikhs, were involved. What happened, to the earlier reported third one? No newspaper has yet followed up the discrepancy.

But what is of immediate relevance is the question: should the media have described the assailants immediately as Sikhs? Given the background of the Punjab situation, such men-tioning of a community by name was bound to excite communal passions and inflame com-munal hatred. It may be worthwhile in this con-text to refer to a recommendation made at a seminar on communal writings held in New Delhi in November 1970 under the joint auspices of the Press Institute of India and the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India. It was suggested that certain facts which may aggravate the situation if publish-ed straight away should be printed after a stipulated period.

The team is also intrigued to find Doordar-shan allowing the recording of highly provo-cative slogans like ‘khoon ka badla khoon’ (blood for blood) by some members from the mourning crowd at Teen Murti. There was a tendency among many reporters to concentrate on the names of important politicians instead of on earnest efforts made by individuals or groups. Thus, when a peace march was organis-ed by a group of concerned citizens in South Delhi on November 2, which was joined by the Janata leader Chandrasekhar and some of his followers, some newspapers the next day described it as a Janata Party march. This created temporary misunderstandings and ham-pered the efforts of the non-party group to bring together all citizens, many of whom did not want to identify themselves with any par-ticular political party. The need to keep party politics out of ventures like peace marches to put down riots is yet to be recognised by media people who seem to remain obsessed with names of political personalities.

Coming to the role of Opposition political leaders, the team regrets that by and large they failed to rise to the occasion during the crucial ways of October 31 to November 5. Although news of arson and carnage was pouring into the offices of the political parties every hour, they hardly made any effort to rush to the spot with their cadres, stop the violence and organise peace committees in the localities, and remain-ed content with issuing a joint statement with the Prime Minister on November 1 pleading for peace and amity.

On November 3, when following the carnage at Trilokpuri, the group of concerned citizens went to the opposition party leaders (referred to earlier), some among the former appealed, to the Janata Party leader Chandrasekhar to lead them in a deputation to Teen Murti and appeal to the Prime Minister. Chandrasekhar rose, folded his hands and pleaded: “I cannot do it. I don’t want to be accused of ruining the late Prime Minister’s faneral”

ROLE OF PUBLIC

While the disturbances that shook Delhi from October 31 to November 5 could be described as an ‘organised disorder’ with signs of meticulous planning by certain groups in some areas, deliberate laxity on the part of the administration in other areas and wilful relin-quishment of responsibility of senior ministers as well as opposition parties on a wider scale, at the same time the existence of hostility and suspicion among large sections of the Hindu population against the Sikhs because of the happenings in Punjab during the last two years cannot be ruled out. By not solving the out-standing economic and political issues in Punjab, by allowing Sikh extremism and Hindu communalism to feed on each other leading to the army raid on the Golden Tem-ple and antagonising thereby large sections of the Sikh community, the ruling party at the Centre had sown the seeds of communal divi-sion between Hindus and Sikhs.

As a result, when from October 31, organis-ed assaults on the Sikhs began (as distinct from a spontaneous mass upsurge against Sikhs which some observers are trying to make it out to be), the Hindu public by and large appeared to be in a mood that sanctioned such assaults. Comments by responsible Hindu citizens in Delhi indicate to some extent the popular psyche. An officer belonging to IPS was heard to comment that the government was not preventing the violence so that people could let off steam and the Sikhs in Punjab would be taught a lesson’. An Indian who works for the UN in Geneva and who flew to Delhi for Indira Gandhi’s funeral, told a member of the team that the orgy of violence had been allowed to ‘teach the Sikhs a lesson’. When asked about the suffering that this was causing the common people, he said: ‘Who is suffering?’ The long record of uninterrupted depredations by the Sikh extremists in Punjab had possibly created a desire for retaliation that blinded even those who are regarded as responsible people among the Hindus.

How did the Sikh victims view this attitude of their Hindu neighbours? Victims in Gurgaon said: “People stood on their rooftops watching our houses burning, just as they do when obser-ving the Republic Day Parade.”

It was this mood again that allowed the Hindu public to believe all sorts of rumours ranging from the story of poisoning drinking water to that of armed Sikhs prowling the streets to attack Hindus. The next step from such belief in rumours is acquiescence in the rampage that had started from the evening of October 31 and even active participation by the younger and more aggressive Hindus in some cases.

The anti-Sikh communal partisan feeelings had penetrated the lower ranks of the ad-ministration also, as evident from the behaviour of the police force, who were given the reins for three or four days by their superior officers.

Given this mood of vicarious exultation at the plight of the Sikhs among the public, it was easy for an organised group enjoying the patronage of the ruling party to carry out the plan of systematic destruction and killings.

The anti-Sikh sentiments in some areas also stoked by some isolated expressions of happi-ness at Indira Gandhi’s death among some Sikhs, and of bravado and attempts at resi-stance against depredations by the Hindu mobs. It is possible that attempts at resistance could have been taken as a challenge by the maraud-ing hordes who were sure of getting police pro-tection at every step. The team came across reports, corroborated by some responsible residents of a few neighbourhooods, of Sikhs dancing the ‘bhangra’ on the night of October 31. Such incidents reinforced the simmering hostility against the Sikhs.

But these stray incidents were marginal and do not explain the wide-scale explosion of in-discriminate violence against all Sikhs throughout India on the same date and the same time, which could be the result of only a well designed strategy.

The only signs of courage and initiative in an otherwise ominous landscape were demon-strated by those Hindu and Muslim neighbours who helped Sikh families in the affected areas. The team came across a large number of Sikh inmates in the relief camps who said repeated-ly that but for these neighbours they would have been butchered.

In a makeshift camp opposite the Kaiyan-puri police station on November 3, the team met a Hindu family, whose house was burnt down by the miscreants because he had given shelter to his Sikh neighbours.

A postal employee living in Bhogal told the team how his house was damaged and partly burnt because he helped two Sikhs. With army assistance he moved the Sikhs to his village in Faridabad.

Members of a voluntary organisation trac-ed two Sikh families who were given shelter by Hindus in Khichripur on November 3. Defy-ing a belligerent mob that stood at the entrance of the lanes, a local Hindu youth led the members to the house and rescued the families who were being sheltered by a poor Hindu family. The next day, the volunteers following a request by a mother in a relief camp went to trace her daughter in Trilokpuri who was be-ing looked after by a Hindu family. The latter restored the daughter to the volunteers, kept with them two other Sikh children whose parents were still untraced. “It is our respon-sibility to look after them”, they said.

Near Azadpur, a Hindu factory owner hid a Sikh inside the factory premises. When the Hindus surrounded the factory demanding that the Sikh be handed over to them, the factory owner persuaded the Sikh to shave has hair and beard, gave him a cycle which helped him to pass through the crowd and escape.

On the GT-Karnal Road, Hindus saved a Gurudwara and a Sikh doctor’s clinic from be-ing burnt down. In the same area, from November 1 to 5, Delhi University teachers and students kept vigil around the entry points to lanes where Sikhs lived.

Hindus from Munirka village and residing in Munirka colony provided protection in their own homes to ten Sikh families.

Thirty Sikh families residing in Mayur Vihar were guarded all through the period by young Hindu neighbours who resisted attempts by outsiders to raid the compound.

According to a rough estimate based on in-formation gathered from different sources, at least 600 Sikhs were saved by Hindus of Trilokpuri. According to an army officer posted in Shahdara, of the Sikh families he rescued from different parts of the area, at least 70 per cent were sheltered by Hindus.

It is these acts of courage, however, few they may be, which are reassurance that sanity still prevails in our country.

RELIEF AND REHABILITATION

Taking into consideration the extent of vio-lence and arson on the night of October 31 it would be reasonable to expect that the Delhi ad-ministration would have anticipated the need to set up relief camps. Neither the government nor the administration seemed to be concern-ed with the problem and their attitude of deliberate inaction seems to be a continuation of their stance during the carnage.

The authorities have refused to make realistic estimates of the number of people killed and injured, the number of widows and orphans, or the extent of damage to property. Further, the administration to date refuses to recognise most of the people who have taken refuge in the Gurudwaras as displaced persons who are entitled to relief and compensation. The ad-ministration recognises only ten camps whereas a voluntary organisation, Nagarik Ekta Manch has identified at least 18 others within Delhi and several on the outskirts. (The list of these camps is given in an annexure to the team’s report.) According to the government there are about 20,000 displaced persons. In fact there are at least 50,000.

The administration has tried to manipulate figures and thus gloss over the enormity of the problem. For instance, the former Police Com-missioner, Subhash Tandon, at a Press Con-ference on November 2 said that the number of dead was between 15 and 20. To this the then Lt Govenor Gavai added “things arc under con-trol” (Indian Express, November 3). The of-ficial death toll is now 613 when eyewitness ac-counts speak of hundreds of bodies lying in Trilokpuri alone.

There was no attempt to do any relief work till November 2. On that day for the first time the administration with the help of the army evacuated people to the police thana or to school buildings. After that there was no sign of the administration despite various pious an-nouncements in the media by the new Lt Gover-nor Wali about giving blankets and mattresses to the refugees for comfort.

Thousands went hungry and had to urinate and defecate in the corridors of the school building. The injured lay in the rooms without any medical treatment. There was no one to share the horror or the anguish of widows, to say a word to them. The first initiative for relief came from local communities, mostly Hindus and from Gurudwaras who brought the first meal and organised langars. For instance, at Farash Bazaar the people from Jhilmil colony brought their own utensils and organised a langar in the face of threats from the mobs.

The local initiative was followed by the ef-forts of the voluntary groups and individuals. Hundreds of students, housewifes, teachers, doctors and many prominent citizens organis-ed relief camps and collected supplies. The ad-ministration was nowhere to be seen.

The Delhi administration appointed a Relief Commissioner to deal with the crisis on November 4. On November 6, the Delhi ad-ministration announced a scheme for rehabilita-tion arid Joint Secretaries from various Ministries were put in charge of various camps in which a compensation of Rs 10,000 was to be given to the next of kin for each dead. Five thousand was to be given to each seriously in-jured and a thousand for those who sustained minor injuries. The same amounts were to be given to those who had suffered damage to their property. On November 7 the Prime Minister announced that he was releasing a sum of Rs 40 lakh for relief work for the Union Ter-ritory of Delhi from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.

The question that arises is where did the money go, for it has not reached the people at the camps. There is no scheme made for the implementation of the relief scheme and no agency has been created for this purpose. The joint control room at Raj Nivas for relief does not seem to have even got information about the number of camps in the city.

When the government did move in, it was met with hostility from the people and at least on one occasion the people refused to accept the food brought by an MP because the people felt that he was involved in the carnage. In fact the arrival of the VIPs was often a hindrance to the relief work being carried out.

The plight of the displaced persons was pathetic. The army had clear instructions not to allow anyone to photograph the camps. A member of the team was roughed up by the army and his film snatched away at the Shakur-pur camp when he took a photograph of the people in the camp.

No attempt has been made to take a census of the people at the camps and estimte the number of men, women and children. None of these people have been given identity cards on which basis they could claim the compensation and now they will get entangled in red tapes and possible litigation.

According to Press reports more than rupees two crore worth of looted property has been recovered but no attempt has been made to arrest the looters who if arrested are released on the intervention of the local leaders.

Further, there is no system worked out by which the recovered property will be returned to its rightful owners. Already VCRs are find-ing their way to the market at a ridiculous price.

Within a week the administration started to forcibly evacuate the displaced persons and sending them back to what used to be their homes, which are now cinders and ashes. Their houses destroyed, their property looted, and the murderers and looters wandering free, the people are terrified of returning to the areas which are full of memories of murder and ar-son. Officially there have been 2,960 arrests but hundreds of these people have been released either on intervention of local politicians or are on bail. The government and the administration have in a ruthless manner got DTC buses to pack off the people, given them Rs 50 per family and sometimes a bundle of bedding and sent them back without making appropriate arrangements for their security. No attempt has been made to create an atmosphere of trust and security. Despite the presence of army it was reported to the team that stray incidents of looting and murder continue The government did not mobilise all the re-sources at its command (e g, the army) to pro-vide medical care and sanitation, nor did it print enough forms for compensation claims. A voluntary agency had to have thousands of forms printed for the camps in its care. The government’s callousness towards the problem of relief and rehabilitation is in consonance with its earler policy of calculated inaction dur-ing the carnage. How could the government not have anticipated the need for an effective machinery for relief and rehabilitation? Fur-ther, how was it that just at the time the govern-ment was announcing the setting up of a Relief Commissioner the forcible evacuations of the people started without any assurance to them of their future security?

CONCLUSION

The social and political consequences of the government’s stance during the carnage, its deliberate inaction and its callousness towards relief and rehabilitation are far reaching. It is indeed a matter of grave concern that the government has made no serious inquiries into the entire tragic episode which seems to be so well planned and designed.

The riots were well organised and were of un-precedented brutality. Several very disturbing questions arise that must be answered:

(1) What was the government and the ad-ministration doing for seven hours between the time of the assassination and the announce-ment of Indira Gandhi’s death?

(2) Why did the government refuse to take cognisance of the reports of the looting and murders and why did it not call in the troops even after alerting them?

(3) Why have a few individual Congress(I) leaders close to the Prime Minister been allowed to arrogate to themselves powers belonging to ministers and officials?

(4) Why was there no joint control room set up and who was responsible for not giving clear and specific instructions to the army on curb-ing violence and imposing curfew?

(5) Who was responsible for the planned and deliberate police inaction and often active role in inciting the murder and loot? (6) Who was responsible for the planned and directed arson?

(7) Why were highly provocative slogans (‘khun ka badla khun’ or ‘blood for blood’) allowed to be broadcast by Doordarshan during the recording of the mourning crowd at Teen Murti?

(8) Why has the Congress(I) not set up an in-quiry into the role of its members in the arson and looting?

DEMANDS

On the basis of its findings, the team has made the following demands in its report:
(1) A public high level inquiry into the role of the government and the ruling party in plan-ning, instigating and executing the riots between October 31 and November first week, and im-mediate publication of the report of inquiry.

(2) Exemplary punishment of those found guil-ty by the inquiry committee, according to the law.

(3) A well formulated and clear cut policy on relief and rehabilitation and effective machinery for its immediate implementation. [The People’s Union for Democratic Rights and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties place on record their gratitude for the valuable informa-tion given by the survivors of the carnage at tremendous risk to their lives, the volunteers of the Nagarik Ekta Manch and many others who by their dedicated work made possible the investigation and publication of the team’s report. In addition to the above extracts, the team’s report contains case studies of the riots in Sultanpuri, Mangolpuri and Trilokpuri and annexures setting out the chronology of events, some eyewitness accounts, the contrast between official pronouncements and news reports on the events, lists of those identified by the sur-vivors as those having instigated violence and/or protected alleged criminals as well as of others allegedly involved in looting, arson and other criminal activities and lists of relief centres recognised by the Delhi administration and of those not recognised.]

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Comment (1)

  1. Communal Award

    Use fMRI on culprits

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