1984: A Smirch and Pogrom

Gautam Guha, Agami Kalarab: The Sikh community is universally respected for their glory,sacrifice,valor and bravery. But these Sikhs were subjected to extreme remorse and torture. The killing of one person is unique to the kind of oppression that has never happened in another country. The blasphemy came down in India.1984 Sikh Massacre, was a series of organised pogroms against Sikhs in India in response to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The ruling Indian National Congress had been in active complicity with the mob, as to the organisation of the riots. During the night of October 31 and early morning of November 1,
Congress (I) party leaders met with their local supporters to implement their plan to massacre Sikhs and distribute weapons and money Congress (I) Member of Parliament (MP) Sajjan Kumar and Congress (I) Trade Union Leader and Metropolitan Councilor Lalit Maken paid 100 Rupees and distributed a bottle of liquor to each assailant. Jagjit Singh of Kiran Garden witnessed a meeting near his house around 8 a.m. where Sajjan Kumar distributed iron rods from a parked truck to about 120 people. The MP instructed the mob to attack to the Sikhs, kill them, and loot and burn their properties. The murderous words and constant refrains chanted by the mobs, on television, throughout neighborhoods, demonstrated a desire to kill Sikhs as a people. “Khoon ka Badla Khoon,” or “Blood for Blood” began at AIIMS, and reverberated across India through the state-owned TV service Doordarshan. Then several BJP leaders repeatedly requested the Prime Minister to stop the anti-Sikh riots.

Later, an inquiry committee was constituted under the direction of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and it was revealed that the violence was manifested in the vicious confrontation of many Congress workers and police. Ranjit Singh Narula, retired Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, watched local television on the morning of November 1, amazed at how the crowd outside Teen Murti, where Mrs. Gandhi’s body lay, chanted “Khoon Ka Badla Khoon” and “Sardar Quam Ke Gaddar,” or “Sardars are the Nation’s Traitors” while the large number of government officials observed without taking any action to stop the inflammatory slogans. This continued on TV the whole day. Even the new Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did not stop the chanting mobs. When Shanti Bhushan, former law minister and senior advocate of the Supreme Court, tuned into Doordarshan, he saw Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi passively listening to the slogans. This is when the more exclusive localities were targeted. Along the radial roads emanating from Connaught Circus, fires blazed as if in a choreographed show. Furniture shops on Panchkuian Road were set on fire, Paharganj, Shiela cinema, the abandoned Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, though very ably defended by young Sikhs carrying iron rods, lathis and the odd shotgun, a glass-and-mirror shop where a Sikh lay dead, impaled by shards of large glass sheets that rained on him as the shop was looted. In the more central and generally less congested parts of Delhi, looting was the primary motive. South Extension market’s Perfection Silk and Saree House and Wings Shoes were looted and burnt.At that time many Hindus came forward to help the oppressed Sikhs. Many relief camps were formed under the initiative of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which benefited the people of Sikh community in large numbers. The Mittal and Nanavati reports both highlighted the role of the police and Congress leaders in intimidating survivors to depose in their favor. Yet, the government has not established a witness protection program. Nor has the
government incorporated international crimes, such as crimes against humanity,
or principles like command responsibility, which holds superiors liable for human
rights violations committed by their subordinates, into its municipal law.
In The Widow Colony, Sawaranbir Singh expressed the alienation felt by many survivors of November 1984:
“This Govt didn’t take any action to stop the bleeding of Sikhs. How are we to survive?”
Each day the survivors are denied their rights to knowledge, justice and reparation, their anguish is compounded, their nightmare prolonged, and their alienation deepened. Thirty Five years on, the Indian government continues to call for more inquires. The institutional breakdown of justice, where thousands of Indian citizens can be denied their rights in order to protect the few, elite, and powerful, cannot be redressed through Nanavati-type commissions. These commissions have served to cover-up the truth, rather than provide a just and meaningful way forward. India, however, still has the opportunity to demonstrate its respect for human rights and participate in the international movement for accountability. India must recognize that it does not have the will or capacity to implement an impartial and thorough investigation into these mass crimes or hold the perpetrators accountable, and invite the international community to help it develop a mechanism to redress these crimes. Until India ends impunity for these genocidal killings, it will continue to be a nation ruled
by men, and not the law.

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