Sikh Genocide 1984

Compiled by Charnjit Singh Bal from various sources. 

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 diligence 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 up-market, 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 dispatched 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 surreptitiously passed on to those accused of leading the mobs to facilitate their defense. 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.

Sheela Barske

Fifteen years old. Round chubby face. Aching black eyes. She stumbled out of the first rescue bus. Torment she had endured for 36 hours surged out when she saw us. ''Meri izzat loot li (they raped me),'' she cried out. She pulled away the loose, crumpled kurta from her shoulders to reveal a gash from her left collar bone to right breast, covered with dried blood, ''Dekho, dekho, unhone kya kiya mere saath (see, see what they did to me)."

In barrack rooms, a team of interns arranged first-aid medicines, gauzes, on the dirty floor. It was noon. November 2, 1984. Two days after Indira Gandhi's assassination.

Thirty-six hours after more than 300 Sikhs in that basti had been lynched, burnt and flung down from upper floors in the presence of their families, pushing back the women and children who rushed to embrace the targeted men, Delhi police had found one bus to bring out the terrorized survivors from their looted homes with just their clothes on, to the police grounds.

A 12-year-old boy sat alone apart from his kin, on a large stone, brooding, head held firm on a straight spine. The knot of his kesh had been lopped off but the remaining hair, glued spiny stiff and erect in a bunch, proclaimed his continuing identity. ''He has not spoken a word since he saw his father and uncle being burnt to death and flung down from first floor,'' a relative informs.

A desultory conversation begins. A middle-aged sardarni, still dreaming of the gory killing of her husband, softly asks, ''Is it possible to rescue my brother-in-law? He is all burnt but there is still some breath in him. He is sitting in a chair for the last 40 hours.'' The woman withdraws into herself.

I ask for a guide to locate the house. A polio-affected youth moves closer. ''I will. The police left behind my wife. Her thigh and shoulder were scorched as she threw herself on my eldest brother when they set him on fire live. She is mute and young, childlike really...''

An athletic sardar, kesh cut, clean-shaven, accompanies me. Few hours ago, like many Sikhs in that colony, he had paid several hundred rupees to a barber to raze an integral part of his being. Since October 31, 'kesh' marked not a glorious inheritance but a victim to be torched alive.

With the doctor's team and first-aid, we enter the colony and pause by a wounded elderly man lying on a cot. He would need an ambulance. We do not have one. ''Now you come,'' screams a woman. ''After bodies have been thrown in the nullahs.'' A Sikh grabs my arm, ''Curfew laga dijiye." Our guide sprints into a lane. Mounds of junk placed across the road every few yards, the lynchers' barricades to prevent victims escaping in their taxis. The young doctors trail. The guide breaks into a run and leaps over front steps of a house. ''Anyone there?'' I call out a few times, then step in.

The house had been looted clean, no furniture, no utensils, no clothes. ''There is no one inside, I checked thoroughly,'' he says. Depressed, we stand still in the stark living room. A mob of 200 men and women has arched around the house while we are inside. They watch us silently. ''What have you done with him?'' I yell. ''Didn't burning him satisfy you? His bhabhi told me that Dilbara Singh is sitting in a chair. Where have you hidden him?''

''Oh Dilbara Singh!'' a man steps up saucily. ''Come here. This pile of ashes, that's him. His wife broke up the chair and gave him a live funeral, with flowers and everything.'' he grins wickedly.

The chowk is now blocked by a mob of 150. The news of a rescue team has traveled. I notice brass knuckles on a fist and cycle chain in a hand and discover that our guide is missing. ''Where is the man who came with us?,'' I yell.''He was with us 2 minutes ago. What have you done with him?''

An armed sub-inspector comes running. ''He is safe. He was recognised. He ran for his life. He asked me to inform you.'' The officer was the sole policeman on duty for 48 hours.

The sun begins to set. Someone hails us. An elderly thick-set sardar in a wheelchair pushed by two youngsters. ''Take me out please,'' the sardar pleads. We walk away but a few steps later, I abruptly halt. The disabled Sikh is not safe, he's in danger. We turn and stride to the disabled man. ''Come,'' we say. But the three young men have their hands firm on his wheelchair. ''We'll take him. We are with Nandita Haksar.'' I believe them only after sighting Nandita 300 meters away.

That evening I hitch a ride in a press car. ''Fifty-nine Hindus killed, some pulled in gurdwaras.'' they tell me. ''But we are not printing that.''

Police Commissioner Tandon refuses to see the press. PRO Panwar sniggers, ''Hundreds killed in one basti? How is it possible to burn people alive? We have not received any complaints.''

Reporters decide to gatecrash Tandon's office. ''Please order shoot at sight." He steps back into the unlit shield of his chamber. His subordinates and guards block the door.

Next day, I visit the morgue. A corpse wrapped in a bloodstained brilliant white sheet is laid outside the walled compound, in front of the gate. Not a soul around. I ask a policeman if I can pay for a few decent funerals.

In the compound, to my left, is an open shed with hundreds of bloated corpses stacked 6-7 deep like logs. In front of me, scores of rotting bodies heaped in a truck. Nearby a dump of swollen, decaying remains of men. Disconnected tufts of hair strewn around. The policeman returns, asks me to come over. I take a few steps over the bunches of kesh littering the compound and blown around my feet. Outside, I stand for a while with an anonymous, unaccompanied body.

But the scars run deep and sharp in the minds of Sikhs like Avtar Singh Bedi who had lived there in 1984 and still remember the brutalities.

Recalling Oct 31, 1984, Bedi, 45, who has shifted to Tilak Vihar, said: "The news of Indira Gandhi's assassination shocked me. Equally shocking was the way people looked at me and my brother when we were returning to our homes."

Suddenly, out of the blue, a terrible fury broke out all over Delhi - for the first time after the 1947 partition of the sub-continent. And Trilokpuri bore the brunt of it.

After his house and his shop dealing in electrical appliances were looted and set afire, Bedi and his family fled to a smaller dwelling in west Delhi. Tension flickered across Bedi's wrinkled face as he recalled images of unruly mobs pouncing on him and his teenaged brother, who was a mechanic at a roadside scooter garage.

"I escaped but the mob killed my brother and ransacked all the houses at Block 30 in Trilokpuri," Bedi said. Trilokpuri turned into a killing field. The police refused to intervene. Bedi ran with his elderly and ailing mother. "A cousin who was visiting us also ran with us," Bedi said.

“Gurdip Kaur, a 45 year old woman from Block 32, Trilokpuri, told a typical story. Her husband and three sons were brutally murdered in front of her. Her husband used to run a small shop in the locality. Her eldest son, Bhajan Singh, worked at the railway station; the second, in a radio repair shop; and the third as a scooter driver.

She says, ‘On the morning of 1 November, when Indira Mata’s body was brought to Teen Murti, everyone was watching television. Since 8.00 am, they were showing homage being paid to her dead body.At about noon, my children said, “Mother, please make some food.We are hungry.” I had not cooked that day, and I said, “Son, everyone is mourning. She was our mother too. She helped us to settle here. So I don’t feel like lighting the fire today.”

‘Soon after this, the attack started. Three of the men ran out, and were set on fire. My youngest son stayed in the house with me. He shaved off his beard and cut his hair. But they came into the house. Those young boys, 14 and 16 years old, began to drag my son out even though he was hiding behind me.

‘They tore my clothes and stripped me naked in front of my son. My son cried, “Elder brothers, don’t do this. She is your mother just as she is my mother.” But they raped me right there, in front of my son, in my own house. They were young boys, maybe eight of them. When one of them raped me, I said, “My child, never mind. Do what you like. But remember, I have given birth to children. This child came into the world by this same path.”

‘After they had taken my honour, they left. I took my son out with me, and made him sit among the women, but they came and dragged him away. They took him to the street corner, hit him with lathis, sprinkled kerosene over him, and burnt him alive.

‘I tried to save him but they struck me with knives and broke my arm. At that time, I was completely naked. If I had even one piece of clothing on my body, I would have gone and thrown myself over my son and tried to save him. I would have done anything to save at least one young man of my family. Not one of the four is left.”(When a Tree Shook Delhi, page 70)

The anti-Sikh violence erupted on the evening of Oct 31 in south Delhi, close to the hospital where Indira Gandhi was declared dead, and quickly spread to almost every part of Delhi.

With the authorities looking the other way, mobs took charge of the streets, burning and looking Sikh shops and homes and mercilessly killing men, women and even children. Many women were raped.

Memories of the murderous frenzy are still fresh in the minds of Sikhs - as well as others who saw the violence from close quarters. Many non-Sikhs came to the rescue of the besieged community.

Even 20 years later, hundreds of displaced families are fighting legal battles and running from pillar to post to avail themselves of rehabilitation facilities promised by successive governments.

Another riot victim Balvinder Singh, who too lived in Trilokpuri, said: "I lost my father and mother in the violence. It is painful that the perpetrators of the violence are still roaming free."

Some of those - mainly Congress politicians - who perpetrated the atrocities remain entrenched in the party. A few went into oblivion. Sikh militants killed a handful of others.

For the victims, the riots have left a scar that has not healed. But most Sikhs say they harbour no grudges against any community.

G.S. Arora, a former professor with the Pusa Institute of Technology, said: "I have no ill-will against anyone. Some of the people who masterminded the violence were part of the government.

"But they must certainly be booked under the law. Unfortunately this has not happened."

Over the years, Sikhs who lost their near and dear ones have learnt to live with the trauma - but with a feeling of being betrayed by the judicial system. Commissions set up by the government to probe the violence have not been of much help.

Summarizing what the community thought of 1984, Sikh preacher Ranbir Singh Lubhwana, now in his late 40s, noted that the rioters had razed his gurdwara in Trilokpuri.

"But we have rebuilt it. Things are normal and there is no malice for anyone among the Sikhs. Even Hindus come and pray here."

TAVLEEN SINGH tavleensingh@expressindia.com

Posted online: Sunday, October 31, 2004 at 0000 hours IST

It's hard to write an article that appears on October 31 without remembering that it was on this day, twenty years ago, that Indira Gandhi was shot dead in her garden by two Sikh policemen. With the return of the Gandhis to the political limelight there will be many this year who will remember Mrs Gandhi, many who will pay fulsome tributes, many who will glorify her reign. How many will remember the pogroms that followed? Almost nobody is my guess even if we now have a Sikh Prime Minister and an uncompromisingly secular government. Not even the Communists with their daily petulance over perceived communalism will dare remind the government they control that justice still has not been done. It's the one event that even the most ardent secularists choose to forget which is for me a constant puzzle.

In the many years I have spent reporting wars, riots, caste killings and other violent events on our sub-continent, I can remember nothing that matches the horror of those first three days after Mrs Gandhi was killed. For those of you who were not there or may have forgotten, let me help you remember. Within minutes of Mrs Gandhi being shot, my news editor rang me and asked me to rush to the hospital where she had been taken. By the time I got there they had already closed the gates of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and although there was no official announcement of her death till late that afternoon we found out within the first hour. Despite All India Radio pretending all day that she was still alive news of her death spread through the city quickly but on the first day there were no killings. There was tension, an ominous, heavy tension but nobody, and especially not ordinary Sikhs, had any idea of what was going to happen. The most that was expected were a few stray incidents of violence.

I worked at the time for a British newspaper and they wanted me to go to Amritsar the next day to gauge the mood there. By the time I returned on the afternoon of November 1, I could see the fires from the airport.

There was chaos at the airport because there were no taxis since most Delhi taxi-drivers were Sikhs and the mobs had started burning them alive. When I finally managed to get a ride with a Tamil gentleman, our taxi was surrounded on the way to the city by a mob with petrol soaked rags in their hands. ''Any Sikhs in the car,'' they grinned as the Tamil gentleman looked nervously at me. By that night armies of killers roamed the streets of Delhi looking for Sikhs to kill and Sikh properties to burn. For the next two days, the mobs were allowed to murder, loot and burn while the government sat back and watched. By the time the Army was ordered out, the streets of Delhi were littered with bodies and the burned out remains of trucks and taxis with the charred, corpses of their drivers at the wheel. Nobody bothered to pick up the dead because there was no room left in the morgues and one of the images that continues to haunt me is of a dog eating a human arm in a Delhi street.

More than 3000 Sikhs were killed in two days in the city and then in a couple of hours it was brought to a sudden halt. All it took to stop the carnage and the savagery were a handful of soldiers in the streets with orders to shoot at sight. The mobs melted away as they would have done on day one if the government had wanted them to.

Anybody who believes that what happened in Narendra Modi's Gujarat was the worst communal violence since Partition does not remember what happened in Delhi in the first week of November 1984. It was our first State-sponsored pogrom and if we do not acknowledge this then we must recognize that attempts to bring justice to the victims of Gujarat is mere tokenism.

It is wonderful that the wheels of justice, that Modi and his murderous thugs tried to stall, are moving again. May every murderer, rapist and thug be brought to justice so that we never have another Gujarat. But when will those responsible for what happened to the Sikhs in 1984 be punished for what they did? I ask the question rhetorically because I know the answer is never, but justice of some kind must be done if we are serious about ensuring that no government in future ever gets away with pogroms against its own citizens.

Of course swift and severe justice is the best way to ensure this but swift justice is not possible from a justice system that will take 350 years to clear its backlog of cases. Besides, Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers are unlikely to be tried like ordinary criminals so the way forward, in my view, is for our shiny, new, ''secular'' government to set up something similar to South Africa's Truth Commission. Let men like P V Narasimha Rao (Home Minister in 1984) and Narendra Modi and all the officials and policemen who failed to do their duties come before the Commission and answer for their failures. Let those who saw their husbands, brothers and sons burned alive come forward and publicly identify those who led the mobs.

Let the new ''secular'' government put its secularism where its mouth is and convert the toothless Minorities Commission into a powerful Truth Commission. It is the least we can do for the thousands of innocents who died because two Sikh policemen assassinated Mrs. Gandhi.

A day after former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh security guards 20 years ago, crowds of mobs barged into Sikh women’s homes, dragged their husbands, sons by their hair, set fire to them and then bludgeoned them to death.

"My husband, my son was snatched from my lap and was killed. I had six brothers, they were all killed their sons-in-law were killed. My sons-in-law were killed too. At least 18-19 people of my family were killed. My entire family was killed. I single handedly brought up these small kids," screamed Jassi Bai, a grey-haired woman on crutches who lost her entire family in the riots.

As India marks the 20th anniversary of Gandhi's death on Sunday, about 800 Sikh women widowed in an orgy of anti-Sikh violence after the assassination, are still seething in anger.

Living in tenements in a corner of Delhi often called "Widows' Colony", all the women tell horrific stories of bloodthirsty mobs "necklacing" their family with burning tyres, setting their turbans on fire or beating them with iron rods.

"It's understandable and all right if you punish the guilty, irrespective of whether he is a Sikh, Hindu, or Muslim. If he has committed the crime, then by all means punish him, kill him. But what did all the Sikhs do? My only plea is give us justice, we want justice," said Ravel Kaur, as she sobbed, sitting next to a photograph of her slain husband in her ramshackle glass shop in New Delhi.

With their beards and distinctive turbans -- their religion prohibits men from cutting their hair -- Sikh men are easy to spot in India and all over the world.

The government says about 2,733 people died in the wave of killings aimed at the Sikh community after Gandhi was shot dead by two Sikh bodyguards seeking revenge for her decision to send the army to flush out Sikh separatists from the Golden temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine.

But activists say about 4,000 people were killed in the riots, said to be the worst religious violence since the bloody partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.

Two decades and many investigations and commissions later, T.K.S. Tulsi, a lawyer fighting for the riot victims, says only 10 people have been convicted for murder while 500 people have been acquitted and half the cases have been closed by police.

"As it is, under our system, to be able to nail a person who is wealthy or influential is almost impossible. But when both combine, when they are wealthy as well as influential, it is virtually a breakdown of the system. So therefore, we have had virtually no convictions, there have only been a few convictions and victims have got tired. But it is not as if they have got defeated, the victims are still angry and this anger will persist and this will perhaps persist for many generations," Tulsi said.

Living virtually as refugees in their own country, the Sikh widows -- part of a community of about 19 million people -- say all they have received in all these years is a 300,000 rupees compensation and dank quarters in the "Widows' Colony".

Although two decades have passed, their wounds are still festering because of a host of social problems: their children have grown up with a burning sense of revenge which has driven many into a life of crime and drugs.

Most of the women said they had lost all hopes of ever getting justice after the return to power of the Congress party, who the Sikhs say sparked the brutal riots of 1984. Congress denied the accusation.

Jagdish Tytler, one of the Congress leaders, who has been given a clean chit by the Delhi High court in the riots case, said the anger against him was misdirected.

"Nothing, its all nonsense. I am one person who is not ever involved, directly or indirectly and the High Court has given this notice. And the High Court has given its findings, the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation, - federal investigating agency) has given its finding. I am the only person with no FIR (First Information Report), with not even a complaint against him. It is all a political stunt."

Few are hopeful even though the country has its first Sikh prime minister, Manmohan Singh. (ANI)

India refuses to learn lessons from its history of communal riots. The sins of 1984 revisited Gujarat in 2002 and are likely to surface again, says Josy Joseph.

THE police looked the other way as politicians led marauding mobs into the city. You could be talking of Delhi of 1984, or Ahmedabad of 2002.

For its very long history, India has an extremely short memory. Uncomfortable events from the past are tucked away into obscure corners. Especially those that involve violent-bursts of passions stoked by religion, caste, politics or plain hatred.

May be it is the greed to move forward to the future that prevents backward looks. But the forward march is more often than not interrupted by another round of bloody sacrifice of innocence. And yet again the nation fails to offer succor to its victims, deliver justice punish the guilty.

Assurance of immunity to the criminal is almost ingrained in the society. Witnesses to bloody pogroms in India grow up without any guilt. Each mob violence is forgotten in the next one.

In just three days, over 4,000 Sikhs were killed in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, India's most controversial, powerful and longest-serving prime minister. The poorest neighborhoods in Delhi saw the worst riots.

It was an organized massacre of the minority community by politicians and their supporters. Rioters had a free run as the Delhi Police looked away. They ruled the streets as an overwhelmed civil society figured ways out.

Within days of the riots, the usual Indian response was triggered: Commissions and committees, assurances and some stupid political statements, charges and counter charges, and denials by the very leaders who incited the mob to violence.

Hundreds of FIRs were registered by the police. Hundreds more were refused, because the victims wanted to name Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler.

Investigations into hundreds of murders were closed by police, they didn't even make it to courts. Hundreds of murders are yet to be even registered by police.

In 20 years, nine commissions and committees have inquired into the riots. The first one headed by Justice Ranganath Mishra, who went on to become India's chief justice and later the National Human Rights Commission chief. But the commission was a sham. Statements submitted by widows and victims were made available to the accused like Sajjan Kumar, whose supporters were allowed to file their responses months after the deadline. Years later, the CBI found these statements in Sajjan Kumar's house.

The latest commission, one led by Justice GT Nanavati, is still to complete its inquiry. The government last week gave yet another extension to him.

By 1990, six years after riots, just one killer had been convicted. Three special courts set up in 1990 were almost shams. One court acquitted over 100 accused within weeks. The exception was the court chaired by judges like SN Dhingra.

Widows and survivors walked the Kafkaesque corridors of Delhi courts for years in search of justice. They were threatened, some gave in. A handful of the Sikh leaders were accused of taking money from the accused.

Through the travails of these victims, Delhi progressed. Apartment complexes, BPO boom and malls - it has been an unprecedented two decades for Delhi as right wing ideology burst into the scene. Hopes of the BJP-led government delivering justice were misplaced.

The past two decades has been an unending trauma for the riot victims eeking out a living in the shanties and crumbling colonies, earmarked for them. For the orphans of 1984, the lost childhood has been replaced by a miserable youth.

In a city that is a comfortable home to political refugees from over 40 countries, the victims of 1984 are forgotten and hidden - like sins.

Delhi has been the graveyard of many an empire: Be it the Slave Dynasty, Lodhis, Mughals or the British. But can modern Delhi overcome its history? Will India survive the curse of history? For a country that refuses to learn from history how bright could the future be?

The answers to these questions lie buried in the lessons of the past. In search of a solution to the endless cycle of violence, Timesofindia.com captures various aspects of the 1984 riots, its victims and responses, hoping that the leaders, authorities, ordinary men and women realize that no cause is worth a life

source: India refuses to learn lessons from its history of communal riots. The sins of 1984 revisited Gujarat in 2002 and are likely to surface again, says Josy Joseph.

THE police looked the other way as politicians led marauding mobs into the city. You could be talking of Delhi of 1984, or Ahmedabad of 2002.

For its very long history, India has an extremely short memory. Uncomfortable events from the past are tucked away into obscure corners. Especially those that involve violent-bursts of passions stoked by religion, caste, politics or plain hatred.

May be it is the greed to move forward to the future that prevents backward looks. But the forward march is more often than not interrupted by another round of bloody sacrifice of innocence. And yet again the nation fails to offer succor to its victims, deliver justice punish the guilty.

Assurance of immunity to the criminal is almost ingrained in the society. Witnesses to bloody pogroms in India grow up without any guilt. Each mob violence is forgotten in the next one.

In just three days, over 4,000 Sikhs were killed in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, India's most controversial, powerful and longest-serving prime minister. The poorest neighborhoods in Delhi saw the worst riots.

It was an organized massacre of the minority community by politicians and their supporters. Rioters had a free run as the Delhi Police looked away. They ruled the streets as an overwhelmed civil society figured ways out.

Within days of the riots, the usual Indian response was triggered: Commissions and committees, assurances and some stupid political statements, charges and counter charges, and denials by the very leaders who incited the mob to violence.

 

Welcoming the extension of the tenure of Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, on the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other parts of the country, Amnesty International urges the Indian authorities to ensure that the perpetrators of the violence carried out against the Sikh community, in 1984, be brought to justice.

The United Progressive Alliance in its Common Minimum Programme stated that improving the justice sector and addressing the issues of communal violence was one of its goals. Amnesty International believes that ending impunity for past abuses is critical to achieving these objectives.

Amnesty International calls on the Indian authorities to end impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations carried out in Punjab state between the mid 1980's and 1990's, including the 1984 riots in Delhi. During this period a range of human rights violations were perpetrated but few people have been brought to justice.

"Until justice is delivered to victims and their families the wounds left by this period remain open," said Amnesty International.

Only a small minority of the police officers responsible for a range of human rights violations, including torture, deaths in custody, extra-judicial killings and 'disappearances', were brought to justice in the Punjab state. There have been a small number of prosecutions but in many cases impunity has prevailed.

In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine the findings of the Central Bureau of Investigations that 2,097 people had been illegally cremated by police officials in Amritsar district between 1984 and 1994. In March 2004, through public notices in newspapers the NHRC encouraged the families of the victims to file their claims before the Commission.

Background Information

The decade of violent political opposition in Punjab -- which lasted from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s -- started when a movement within the Sikh community in Punjab turned to violence to achieve an independent state for the Sikhs in the early 1980s.

To deal with the violence in the state, Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, authorized an army assault on the Golden Temple, the centre of the Sikh religion, in June 1984. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the leader of Akali Dal, the largest Sikh political party demanding official recognition of the Sikh faith and greater political autonomy, together with many of his supporters, were killed in an assault on the Golden Temple, known as Operation Blue Star.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984 in retaliation. Her assassination was followed by a period of violence known as the anti-Sikh riots.

>From the early 1980s, armed opposition groups targeted and killed police officers, elected representatives and civil servants. The security forces resorted to unlawful and indiscriminate arrests, torture and extra-judicial executions. Thousands of civilians were the victims of abuses committed by both sides.

Armed opposition ended in Punjab just over a decade ago, resulting in a marked decrease of human rights violations in the state. However, thousands of families are still waiting to see justice or know the fate of their relatives who "disappeared" that period.

In its 2003 report, India: Break the cycle of impunity and torture in Punjab, Amnesty International linked the continuation of serious human rights violations in the Punjab to the culture of impunity developed during the period of militancy and reinforced by subsequent inaction. The organization found that regular incidents of torture and custodial violence in the Punjab occur even today.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

India: Prosecute Killers of Sikhs

End Two Decades of Impunity

On the twentieth anniversary of the mass killings of Sikhs, the new Congress-led government should launch fresh investigations into and make a public commitment to prosecute the planners and implementers of the violence, Human Rights Watch said today.

In 1984, in retaliation for the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, angry mobs, some allegedly organized by members of the Congress party, attacked and killed thousands of Sikhs. From November 1 to November 4, gangs attacked the symbols and structures of the Sikh faith, the properties of Sikhs, and killed whole families by burning them alive. The residences and properties of Sikhs were identified through government-issued voter lists.

Victim groups, lawyers and activists have long alleged state complicity in the violence. For three days the police failed to act, as gangs carrying weapons and kerosene roamed the streets, exhorting non-Sikhs to kill Sikhs and loot and burn their properties.

"Seven government-appointed commissions have investigated these attacks," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "But the commissions were all either whitewashes or they were met with official stonewalling and obstruction."

The report of the latest commission, the Nanavati Commission, was due November 1, but has been delayed for another two months.

"The time for commissions that do not lead to prosecutions is over," said Adams. "After two decades, the prosecutors and police should act. There is more than enough evidence to do so now."

Human Rights Watch called for an end to political protection for organizers of the violence. Some of those allegedly involved in the pogrom currently occupy posts in the government or are members of parliament. Both the judiciary and administrative inquiry commissions have failed to hold these perpetrators accountable.

"For two decades high-ranking members of the Congress party have enjoyed political impunity for this violence," said Adams. "The fact that many of the alleged planners of the violence were and are members of the Congress party should not be a barrier to justice for the victims."

Human Rights Watch commended ENSAAF (www.ensaaf.org), an organization dedicated to fighting impunity in India, for its 150-page report, Twenty Years of Impunity, analyzing the patterns of the pogroms and the attitudes and practices of impunity revealed by previously unpublished government documents and other materials.

"With many connected to the violence now enjoying prominent positions in public life, the ENSAAF report makes it clear that India continues to ignore this dark chapter of its modern history at its own risk," said Adams. "Only a conscious exercise of political will on the part of the new government of Prime Minister Singh can bring about justice for the Sikhs."