Kids Corner


India’s Most Shameful Past:
A New Book On India’s Great Genocide -
“1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence And After”







“ ... controlled action rather than uncontrolled anger ...”



Sanjay Suri’s book on the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi opens dramatically with an anonymous phone call to The Indian Express office where he worked as a crime reporter.

It is 5 November, four days after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and a couple of days after some of the worst mass-murders to have hit post-independent India.

The caller, his voice “ringing with great urgency”, tells Suri that the police have arrested some men in central Delhi’s Karol Bagh neighbourhood for looting Sikhs and a Congress member of Parliament (MP) has come to the local police station to secure their release.

Suri takes out his Vespa scooter and heads to the police station, little knowing that this fishing trip would, in his words, lead to “the firmest evidence ever” he would see of the “involvement of Congress leaders, along with top policemen in the looting and killing”.

At the police station, Suri hears angry voices. As he approaches the room from where the noise is emanating, he spots the Additional Commissioner of Police, Hukum Chand Jatav, sitting in the Chief Inspector’s chair, along with a bunch of senior policemen.

On the other side of the table he sees the local Congress MP Dharam Dass Shastri, talking for a group of men and protesting noisily against the police. Jatav orders a policeman to send out the eavesdropping reporter. But Suri is an intrepid news hound, so he walks outside the building and positions himself close to the window of the room.

What he hears then is a heated exchange between Shastri and fellow Congress supporters protesting against the arrest of some party supporters for looting Sikh homes.

“You are protecting criminals,” Amod Kanth, Deputy Commissioner of Police, tells the politicians. But Jatav keeps cutting short Kanth, “demanding explanations” openly in the presence of the Congressman.

“I’d never seen anything like this before,” writes Suri. “The top police officer was sitting there backing the Congress leaders against his own SHO (station house officer is the top officer of a Delhi police station) and the local police. The next senior officer in that room was defending the local police team -- and was being opposed by his own senior for it.”

Later a policeman walks out the room, looking upset and tells Suri: “Whenever the police try to do any work, the politicians stop us.”

When Jatav steps out, Suri asks him why he has not supported his officers.

“His reply was unforgettable: ‘No such thing happened,’ he said.

‘But I saw it,’ I said.

‘No you have not seen it.”

So what was the quarrel in the room about?

“It is the fault of Amod Kanth,” Jatav told Suri. “Mr Kanth does not know how to behave with politicians’.”

When Suri accosts Shastri and asks him why he was protesting against the arrests, he tells the reporter: “The police could have taken away the property, but they should not have arrested the people. Just because some property has been recovered, these people are not criminals.”

As Shastri drives away, Suri spots a teary eyed Kanth standing outside the office, humiliated by a senior officer for doing his job, and for protecting his men who had done theirs.

It’s a vivid and powerful opening to an important new book on one of India’s worst genocides.

In 2007, journalist Manoj Mitta and lawyer H.S. Phoolka wrote an unsparing account of the four-day-long massacre and its aftermath. The bottom line of ‘When A Tree Shook Delhi’ was that for the 2,733 Sikhs who were officially counted as killed in the 1984 carnage, the “legal system has so far imposed punishment on just 13 people in a half a dozen murder cases”.

Suri’s book revisits the nagging question: Why were so few people punished for the cold-blooded, perversely vengeful and targeted killings of a community in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s dastardly murder at the hands of her Sikh security personnel?

He does a reasonably admirable work, mainly focusing on the abject failure of the police in controlling the violence and saving lives. The reportage-driven narrative, interspersed with revealing interviews with police officials, is sometimes marred by repetition -- smarter editing would have helped -- but, in the end, 1984 is an important addition to the slim literature on Delhi pogroms.

Suri, who lives and works in London now, was among a small group of Delhi-based reporters who actually covered the massacres. He returned to India to depose before commissions of enquiry formed to probe into the killings and fix responsibility.

Not surprisingly, nothing much happened.

He tells a shocking story of how policing completely broke down and failed to control the massacres, and of how ruling Congress party supporters helped by local miscreants pillaged and killed with impunity.

Ashutosh Varshney, in a paper, has written that the 2002 Gujarat and 1984 Delhi riots are the “worst examples of anti-minority massacres manifestly allowed by the government”.

Mitta and Phoolka’s book reminds us there were 5,000 army officers and soldiers available in Delhi on the morning of 1 November, when the killing of the Sikhs began.

Even the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission conceded that if the forces had been deployed without delay, at least 2,000 lives could have been saved.

“It was by deliberate decision, if not by actually ordered command, that senior officers were placing Sikh lives at risk,” writes Suri.

Kanth tells him that the “idea was not to let the police act”.

Another policeman, Samsher Deol, tells him there was “no effort by the police to identify the culprits or to arrest them”.

Officers like Maxwell Pereira who, as Deputy Commissioner in the north district, saved the historic Sis Ganj gurdwara in crowded Chadni Chowk from the mob, were an exception.

So within walking distance of the house of the newly appointed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi -- who was sworn in on the evening of 31 October -- Sikhs were being necklaced with burning old tyres picked up from roadside shops.

Suri is scathing about Rajiv Gandhi’s role. On 19 November, the latter made the infamous speech, telling an election meeting that “when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it shakes a little”.

But, Suri writes, the people of Delhi did not murder the innocent Sikhs.

The killings happened in scattered areas in Delhi -- only in three of the city’s six police districts. As former police chief Ved Marwah found in the course of an aborted enquiry, the massacres were the work of small groups on the move that looted and killed, and happened in some areas much more than in others.

It also found that “only a few people did all the killing”. It was “controlled action rather than uncontrolled anger”.

The violence, writes Suri, was “focused on identifiable targets, the killers relied in common on unusual weapons”.

“Not only was this pattern not an instance of spontaneous public anger -- it was evidence of the very opposite of what Rajiv Gandhi’s tree image had suggested. In a city like Delhi, that kind of anger or grief could have brought hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. As it turned out, not a single crowd amounted even to thousand.”

Governments do blame people to cover the crimes of a few, and this was no exception.

“If 3,000 people have died, and nobody is responsible for that, it’s very strange. The killers got away, the police got away, everybody got away,” police officer Keval Singh tells Suri.

For the victims and their kin, there is still no closure.

This is India’s enduring shame.

Soutik Biswas is India editor of the BBC News website.

[Courtesy: Livemint. Edited for]
June 29, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Amit Suresh (New Delhi, India), June 29, 2015, 11:32 AM.

The author states: "The killings happened in scattered areas in Delhi -- only in three of the city's six police districts." Pure rubbish! There were mobs roaming in every area of the town, including the affluent neighbourhoods and business districts, not just the poor enclaves. And what about the same level of violence all over India? ... not just in over 40 major cities (in addition to the nation's capital) but now it is coming out that it happened in scores of villages in Haryana, to take but one province as an example example. I'm afraid this book sounds like a bit of a white-wash (to put it mildly), inspired I think by the RSS/BJP gang, seeing that the fingers are being pointed solely at the Congress politicians. How about the very active and public role of the RSS and the BJP in the massacres. However, I have an even more serious concern: if these journalists were sitting on such eye-witness evidence which could've easily identified and ultimately convicted senior politicians AND police officers in various degrees of complicity (before or after the fact), why did they wait 31 years to publish these reports? That in itself is shameful. Good journalists can't be cowards or feel free to wait for a safe time-frame (such as when the Congress goondas are out of power) to reveal these stories. All it does today is assist the RSS/BJP goondas to further turn the electorate against the Congress. This has got to be the classic case of the kettle calling the pot black!

2: AD Singh (India), June 29, 2015, 2:39 PM.

After 30 years everyone is coming out with their stories about the mass-murder of Sikhs. Why were they silent until now? Was it fear of the Congress or something else? The fact remains that a political gang capable of such brutality against its innocent citizens,has silenced its critics in a similar way.

3: R Singh  (Canada), June 29, 2015, 10:33 PM.

This is hogwash. Try listening to prominent citizens everywhere, it was a well-planned massacre, and not just in Delhi but across the country. There was no RSS hue and cry, they were as complicit as anyone else, for Indira Gandhi had lifted the ban off the organisation after all. There are eye-witness accounts of trains being brought in with hardened criminals from jails and being supplied with rods, etc. Everyone knows the numbers are skewered by the authorities, there is no proper tally of the numbers killed. This kind of nonsense is as insulting as the initial misdeeds.

4: AD Singh  (Punjab), June 30, 2015, 12:46 AM.

The official figures record the number of Sikhs killed in Delhi as 3000 but the actual figure is 6000+ in Delhi alone. The mobs were known to use industrial chemicals which can melt hard objects and many dead bodies were never found. State transport buses of Delhi, UP and Haryana were used to transport criminals from these states to Delhi where they were supplied with iron rods and other lethal objects and petrol, diesel and combustible substances. They were also supplied with voters lists to identify Sikh homes. The police was instructed to help the mobs in case they faced any resistance from the Sikhs. In Delhi, most of the killings were done by four criminal communities -- the Hindu Jats who dominate Haryana and outer Delhi, Hindu Gujjars who dominate Eastern Delhi bordering UP, the lower castes commonly known as Bhangis and the Bhaiyya people from UP and Bihar who have built slums all over Delhi. All these groups were staunch supporters of the Congress. Many Sikhs tried to contact the Home Minister -- PV Narasimha Rao, who then surprisingly vanished. People also tried to contact Congress Sikh leaders -- Zail Singh and Buta Singh who also hid themselves somewhere. The only people calling the shots were Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru along with their criminal henchmen -- HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler, Lalit Maken, Dharam Dass Shastri et al. They belonged to various areas of Delhi and managed the massacre in their respective areas. Indian politicians might not have made their mark as efficient administrators but they are indeed very efficient killers!

5: Kaala Singh (India), June 30, 2015, 3:49 PM.

The Delhi assembly today passed a resolution condemning the Sikh genocide of 1984 and announced free legal aid to the victims. They also announced the formation of a SIT as the SIT constituted by the BJP has been dysfunctional for a long time. This did not happen when a Sikh was the PM or when a Sikh was the Chief Minister of Delhi. One may recall that the Sikh PM went to the UN and lied in front of the whole world that no Sikhs were butchered in 1984. One may also recall that India had a Sikh President when the genocide happened -- while it is understood that he was in no position to help, he did not have the moral courage to resign; instead he continued to enjoy the luxuries of his position and he even wanted a second term and continued his liaison with Rajiv Gandhi who was the chief architect of this genocide!. The Chief Minister of Punjab, heading a political party supposedly dedicated to Sikh interests, who demanded a SIT all along, started opposing the SIT as soon as the BJP came to power. So much to say about the "leaders" we have! I am of the firm opinion that we had similar leaders in 1947 (e.g., Baldev Singh) and during the tragic times of the 1980s, who actively collaborated with our foes, compromised our interests and inflicted such pain on innocent Sikh masses. They are as much guilty as our foes. While it is convenient to ignore the role of collaborators, it would be a disservice not to tell the truth.

6: Kaala Singh (India), July 02, 2015, 11:38 PM.

Breaking News: BJP leader Vajpayee calls Gujarat massacre their "mistake". Just as Rajiv Gandhi secured absolute majority in the elections that followed the genocide of Sikhs in 1984, Vajpayee had hoped that the BJP too would do the same after the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, but the election victory did not materialize then, so he is now calling it a "mistake". He is not calling it a mistake from a moral or human point of view. An interesting fact: Both Rajiv Gandhi and BJP's Vajpayee had pre-poned elections to cash-in on the anti-minority hysteria created with the assistance of the biased Indian media. This is in line with the politics of genocide practiced by Indian politicians today to please the Hindu majority and the gains "measured" in terms of seats won or lost. India is desperate to enter the UN Security Council, and the minorities subjected to genocide should make a case with the UN, that India needs to cleanup its behaviour and be accountable for its past by punishing the culprits, before its case can even be considered.

7: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 03, 2015, 12:34 AM.

There is a reason why the mass murders (labeled "riots" by the Indians, as if that obfuscates their guilt) will never stop in India. Sacrificing humans and animals to please the gods and goddesses is an ancient Hindu practice. In a country where the likes of Indira Gandhi are openly worshipped as Durga --the Hindu goddess of war and death -- the people killed in these "riots" are considered as an offering to please the goddess. Even Vajpayee had called Indira Gandhi a Durga reincarnation. Do we still wonder why India has become the world's biggest "mobocracy"?

8: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 03, 2015, 2:17 PM.

As I have said above, there are materialistic and religious reasons and the lure of easy money that these pogromss will never stop. On the one hand the Hindus worship Laxmi -- the goddess of wealth and prosperity and on the other, they worship Durga -- the goddess of death and destruction. So, for them prosperity and destruction go hand-in-hand. In other words, they seek prosperity not through hard work and creativity but from death, destruction and plunder. This may explain the looting and plunder that invariably accompany these massacres. For those who disagree, take a look at the political culture of India and try to find one guy who has made his money through honest means.

9: Kaala Singh (Punjab), July 04, 2015, 12:25 PM.

Human behaviour is inextricably linked to a person's religious and cultural beliefs. While analyzing the behaviour of Hindu mobs massacring innocent, defenceless minorities who have not harmed them in any way, one must consider an important cultural fact -- the concept of self-sacrifice, martyrdom or "shahadat" to achieve an objective. If we look at the major religions of the world -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, all of them have the concept of self-sacrifice but the Hindu faith has no such concept. On the other hand, they have the concept of sacrificing others to achieve an objective. This may be the real reason why they offer the minorities in "sacrifice" to please the gods and goddesses. One may have heard about Hindu charlatans advising childless couples to make a human or animal sacrifice to be blessed with a child. If somebody has seen how they celebrate Durga Puja, thousands of animals are sacrificed and one will literally see pools of blood and mounds of dead bodies and bones of animals on the streets -- very similar to what was done to the Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in 1984. This was their tribute to the re-incarnation of Durga -- Indira Gandhi in their own evil way!

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A New Book On India’s Great Genocide -
“1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence And After”"

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