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Light a candle for 4,733 Sikhs slaughtered by Congress hoods

By Kanchan Gupta
November 01, 2004 20:31 IST
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This week, light a candle in your window. And whisper a silent prayer in memory of more than 4,000 Sikh men, women and children slaughtered by Congress hoodlums 20 years ago. In Delhi alone, 2,733 Sikhs were burned alive, butchered or beaten to death.


Women were raped while their terrified families pleaded for mercy, little or none of which was shown by the Congress flag-bearers. In one of the numerous such incidents, a woman was gang-raped in front of her 17-year-old son; before leaving, the marauders torched the boy.


For three days and nights the killing and pillaging continued without the police, the civil administration and the Union government, which was then in direct charge of Delhi, lifting a finger in admonishment. The Congress was in power, and senior Congress leaders, perhaps for the first time in their political careers, led from the front while the prime minister, his home minister, indeed the entire council of ministers, twiddled their thumbs.


Even as stray dogs gorged on rotting human entrails, gutters were clogged with charred corpses and wailing women, clutching children too frightened to cry, fled baying mobs armed with iron rods, staves and gallons of kerosene, All India Radio and Doordarshan kept on broadcasting blood-curdling slogans of 'Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge' (We shall avenge blood with blood) raised by Congress party workers grieving over their dear departed leader, India Gandhi.


Rajiv Gandhi, having ensconced himself as prime minister, later sought to justify the terror unleashed by his party. Addressing a rally at Delhi's Boat Club to celebrate his mother's birth anniversary, he thundered: 'When a big tree falls, the earth will shake.' And shake it did!


In mid-morning on October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh guards posted at her home. The assassins, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, later said they had killed the prime minister to avenge the Indian Army's assault on the Golden Temple -- Operation Bluestar -- at her explicit instruction on June 5 that year. Beant Singh was killed by the Indo Tibetan Border Police soon after Indira Gandhi's assassination. Satwant Singh and an alleged accomplice, Kehar Singh, against whom there was thin evidence, were executed for the crime.


Indira Gandhi's death was officially confirmed by All India Radio and Doordarshan at 6 pm, after due dilligence had been exercised to ensure Rajiv Gandhi's succession. By then, stray incidents of violence against Sikhs, including the stoning of President Zail Singh's car, had started trickling in at various police stations.


That night, the Congress party machinery went into a rumour-mongering overdrive: in colony after colony (Delhi, the seat of India's colonial rulers, is a sprawling conglomerate of 'colonies,' some upmarket, most little more than shanty towns), rumours spread like wildfire, describing in graphic details how 'Sikhs were distributing sweets to celebrate Indira Gandhi's assassination,' how 'gurdwaras had been lit up as if it were Diwali,' and, how 'Sikh terrorists had infiltrated the city.'


By the morning of November 1, hordes of men, shouting Congress slogans, had started running riot in south, east and west Delhi. They were armed with iron rods and carried old tyres and jerry cans filled with kerosene and petrol. Owners of gas stations and kerosene stores, beneficiaries of Congress largesse, provided petrol and kerosene free of cost. Some of the men went around on scooters and motorcycles, marking Sikh houses and business establishments with chalk for easy identification. They had been provided with electoral rolls by their political masters to make the task easier.


By late afternoon that day, hundreds of taxis, trucks and shops owned by Sikhs had been set ablaze. By early evening, the killing, loot and rape began in right earnest. The worst butchery took place in Block 32 of Trilokpuri, a resettlement colony in east Delhi. Scores of families were killed over November 1 and 2: most of them were despatched by putting burning tyres around theirs necks.


The pogrom continued with the active abetment of the police. On November 1, some residents of Lajpat Nagar took out a peace march to thwart the violence. The police stopped the march because the participants did not have 'official permission.' In many places, police asked Sikhs to hand over their kirpans, took them away forcibly if the Sikhs refused, before the marauders descended upon them.


To prevent Sikhs from taking refuge in gurdwaras, most of Delhi's 450 gurdwaras were sacked in the early hours of the violence. The expedient means of setting houses ablaze was used to get at Sikh families who had taken refuge on the roofs of their homes. Entire families were roasted alive.


A sort-of curfew was imposed in south and central Delhi at 4 pm on November 1. But no action was taken in east and west Delhi and the outlying area of Palam where the massacre of Sikhs was being carried out with macabre ferocity and astounding impunity. Curfew was imposed in east and west Delhi at 6 pm, ensuring that the killers had an extra four hours.


P V Narasimha Rao, who was the home minister and responsible for maintaining law and order in Delhi during those dark days, was fully aware of what was happening. But he chose not to deploy the army in time which could have prevented the pogrom. In his affidavit submitted to the G T Nanavati Commission, inquiring into the pogrom, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, much decorated hero of the 1971 war, has said, 'The home minister was grossly negligent in his approach, which clearly reflected his connivance with perpetrators of the heinous crimes being committed against the Sikhs.'


The army was alerted at 2.30 pm on November 1; when the General Officer Commanding went to meet the lieutenant governor for orders, he was kept waiting for an hour. The first deployment of army jawans took place around 6 pm on November 1 in south and central Delhi, which were comparatively unaffected, but in the absence of navigators which should have been provided by the police and the civil authorities, the jawans found themselves lost in unfamiliar roads and avenues. The army was deployed in east and west Delhi in the afternoon of November 2. But, here, too, jawans were at a loss because there were no navigators to show them the way through byzantine lanes.


In any event, there was little the army could have done: magistrates were 'not available' to give permission to the jawans to fire on the mobs. This mandatory requirement was kept pending till Indira Gandhi's funeral was over. By then, 1,026 Sikhs had been killed in east Delhi, the majority of the dead were residents of Block 32 in Trilokpuri.


The slaughter was not limited to Delhi. Sikhs were killed in Gurgaon, Kanpur, Bokaro, Indore and many other towns and cities across India. In a replay of the blood-letting in Delhi, 26 Sikh jawans and officers of the Indian Army were pulled out of trains and killed. There has been no effort to compute the death toll in these places, but the most conservative estimates have placed it at 2,000.


After quenching their thirst for blood, the brave leaders of the Congress and their foot soldiers retreated to savour their deeds of revenge. The flames died, the smoke from smouldering shops and homes lifted and the winter air blew away the stench of death. Rajiv Gandhi's government, in a casual aside, issued an official statement placing the death toll at 425.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was then president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, had instructed party leaders in Delhi to organise relief camps and provide succour to the survivors of the pogrom. Madan Lal Khurana and Vijay Kumar Malhotra had braved the marauders to move from colony to colony, giving whatever help they could. Vajpayee contested the official death toll and asked his colleagues to collate figures. Their total added up to 2,800. 'The BJP is an anti-national party,' responded the Congress.


There were demands for a judicial inquiry to fix responsibility and add up the casualties. Rajiv Gandhi stonewalled these demands. Human rights organisations petitioned the courts. Rajiv Gandhi's government declared that courts were not empowered to order inquiries.


Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and went for an early general election. The Congress launched a vitriolic hate campaign through advertisements and posters ('Can you trust a Sikh taxi driver?'). In Rajiv Gandhi's constituency, Congress party workers raised a rather telling slogan against his opponent and sister-in-law, Maneka Gandhi: 'Beti hai Sardar ki, qaum hai gaddar ki' (She is the daughter of a Sikh, a community of traitors).


Rajiv Gandhi rode the crest of a gigantic 'sympathy wave.' The Congress won 401 seats in the Lok Sabha. The BJP was reduced to two seats, punished for sympathising with the Sikhs.


By 1985, Punjab was fast slipping into a bottomless spiral of secessionist violence and Rajiv Gandhi was desperate to show a breakthrough. He mollycoddled Akali leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal into agreeing to sign a peace accord with him. Sant Longowal listed a set of pre-conditions; one of them was the setting up of a judicial inquiry into the anti-Sikh pogrom. Political expediency made Rajiv Gandhi concede this and other demands (it is another matter that the accord foundered and Sant Longowal was assassinated by terrorists).


Thus was born the Ranganath Mishra Commission that shall remain known forever for white-washing official complicity and political patronage without which the slaughter of Sikhs would not have been possible. Submissions and affidavits were  surreptiously passed on to those accused of leading the mobs to facilitate their defence. Some of these documents were later recovered from the house of Sajjan Kumar, one of the Congress leaders who had been accused by victims in their signed affidavits. Gag orders were issued, preventing the press from reporting in-camera proceedings of the Commission.


For full six months, Rajiv Gandhi refused to make public the Ranganath Mishra Commission's report. When it was tabled in Parliament, the report was found to be an amazing travesty of the truth, an exercise that was dedicated to drawing a bizarre distinction between Congress party workers and the Congress party -- the former were guilty, but not the latter; no responsibility was fixed nor were the guilty named.


Subsequently, three other committees were set up: the Jain-Banerji Committee to find out why cases were not registered by the police and, if registered, why was it not done properly; the Kapoor-Mittal Committee to look into the role of the police; and, the Ahuja Committee to compute the number of deaths. The findings of the first two committees are gathering dust in some corner of South Block.


The key finding of the Ahuja Committee is of relevance -- a total of 2,733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi. There is no record of an apology being offered by either Rajiv Gandhi or his government for placing the death toll at 425, leave alone for their description of the BJP as 'anti-national' because it had placed the figure at 2,800.


In these 20 years, nine commissions and committees have been set up to look into different aspects of the anti-Sikh pogrom. Much bluster has been heard about bringing the guilty to book. What we have seen is inertia, political intervention and tardy prosecution. Overwhelming evidence against Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and H K L Bhagat has been set aside by skulduggery and gerrymandering.


Two thousand seven hundred and thirty-three men, women and children killed in Delhi, another 2,000 killed in other towns and cities, scores of women raped, property worth crores of rupees looted or sacked. Families devastated forever, survivors scarred for the rest of their lives.


After 20 years, all that we have to show as justice being done is the conviction of six men, who did not have the requisite financial or political clout to manipulate their way to freedom and are serving sentence for 'murder.'


Sajjan Kumar is back in business as a Congress member of the Lok Sabha; Jagdish Tytler is minister for NRI affairs in the UPA government.


Those who survived the pogrom of 1984, haunted by nightmares of a genocide the world has forgotten, wipe their tears in silence.


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Kanchan Gupta