1984: A year we must never forget.

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by Singh, Oct 31, 2009.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    I have been in Delhi all my life and I don't have any recollections of 1984, probably because I was just about learning to walk. But there were others like me, who should've gotten that time to take their baby steps. Instead they started their lives on the run, and some say, they're still running.

    I am talking about those unfortunate victims of the 1984 Sikh massacre. I don't call them riots, because that's when two sides have an equal go at each other. In this case, it was completely one-sided, Sardars across Delhi barely had the capability or the time to fight back because it all happened so fast. The years after 1984 though were slow. Time has inched forward for most of the families ruined by killings that were just so unnecessary. Thousands of lives shattered and the children of '84 are still trying to pick up the pieces.

    Working on a special story on the 25 years of the Sikh massacre, my colleague Priyali and I spent a considerable amount of time in one small corner of Delhi known as Tilak Vihar. It's best described as a ghetto, a small, densely populated area where thousands of affected Sikh families were rehabilitated by the government. There are people living in matchbox houses, stacked one above the other. You can't escape the smell of the decomposing garbage behind every staircase as you make your way to meet someone. Families uprooted from their comfort zones and literally dumped in such areas. As we walk around, all I can think of is how this is all so damn unfair!

    Someone lost 11 members of their family, just watched them being burnt alive. Watching their husbands being dragged out and slaughtered, some women had the presence of mind to save their young boys by opening their patkas so they would look like girls. Some even sacrificed their faith by chopping off their children's hair. Guess desperate times beg for desperate measures. Women ran to the police for help, instead it was the police which helped the mob, in many cases provided matchsticks to help set innocent Sardars ablaze, watching the show as they screamed for their lives.

    Those who survived have grown up with these memories. Just pause and think, can such memories ever be erased? Can their lives ever return to normal?

    Walking the narrow lanes of Tilak Vihar, there are horrific tales to be told at each corner. Some refused to talk to us, accusing the media of making a big show out of their feelings and not really genuinely helping them.

    Well, to be honest, I can't quite blame them. They feel deserted, forgotten and let down. Someone had a transport business in Trilokpuri before 1984, now their sons are driving autos across Delhi. Youngsters who had a bright future, were forced to drop out of school and work with their mothers to help feed the younger members of the family. But many of their efforts went in vain. Having no one at home during the day, children were directionless. Many fell into bad company, got hooked to drugs and some even lost their lives to addiction. There was almost no one in the entire locality who had managed to cross over and make a successful living.

    The point I'm trying to make is that one act of hatred for three days in the November of 1984 wiped out not just one generation, but the generations to come as well. The survivors may have escaped the swords, the kerosene cans, the matchsticks and the mob 25 years ago, but they are living in a present which has a grim future. They call 1984 a blot - a blot they can never wipe off.

    While it's imperative that the victims move on and try and escape the past, the leadership should never be allowed to. The men behind the massacre should be repeatedly reminded of what they did and what their actions have continued to do to the generation that followed. It is they who should have nightmares and not the victims. It is they who should be living in terrible conditions and it is they who should be trying consistently to remove the blot of 1984 that they have against their names.

    IBNLive : Arunoday Mukharji's Blog : 1984: A year we must never forget
     
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  3. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    1984 riots: The Lives of Others


    That phone call seemed to have brought the world around me crashing down. "Go check," a police officer called me a little after nine that morning of October 31 to say. "Indira has been hit by bullets. They have taken her to the Medical Institute."

    I headed off to AIIMS on my scooter fast as I could. The outside gates were still open, but the main block had been sealed off. We knew what was announced on radio only by early afternoon: that Indira Gandhi was dead, shot dead by two Sikh police bodyguards.

    The day went in gathering as much detail as I could about the assassination. But by evening the first reports of violence came in, from outside the Medical Institute. Sikhs passing by, heading home, many of them, were being attacked. And we heard the first of that slogan of murder that was to go around Delhi: "Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge."

    Sky

    The next morning it was hard to believe this was the Delhi I knew. The police offered no information on the phone. And the only lead I could get on where there was trouble was by looking up at the sky, where the pillars of smoke seemed thickest. On my scooter I went chasing one pillar of smoke after another, all over south Delhi. The Guru Harkishan Public School in Vasant Vihar was in flames; books, stationery, furniture had been set on fire. Mobs roamed the roads, stopped traffic when they chose to, looking for Sikhs.

    One obvious place to check for trouble was the gurdwaras. I made my way to Rakab Ganj gurdwara, where I saw the still smouldering bodies of two Sikhs who had been burnt alive by a mob outside. And this was while a very large police contingent stood by, all wearing riot gear - to protect themselves. And still I had no idea what scale of killing was being prepared for that night, or even taken place the past night. It was only after the next day after seeing how much killing had taken place, and at how many places, that I reported that these were not murders, these were massacres.

    There were primarily all of three reporters who went around Delhi at the time to report what was happening; my friend Rahul Bedi also from The Indian Express, Joydeep Gupta from The Statesman, and myself. The fact is there really was no fourth. There were these other papers, with their teams of reporters. Where they were, what they did, nobody knows. But that so many facts became known at all was thanks to some remarkably bold reporting by Rahul Bedi and Joydeep Gupta - they were going into those areas that people were afraid even to talk about, like Trilokpuri for instance from where Rahul reported the extent of massacres on a scale no one had thought possible.

    Sultanpuri

    It was again only on November 2 that we were able to get to Sultanpuri because we heard from people calling the office of the killings there. We headed there in the office car, I was driving because the drivers were too scared to go anywhere in Delhi those days. Anyone really could have been stopped, or killed anywhere; mobs were roaming the city, the police were almost nowhere to be seen, it was all anarchy on the streets, with a particular sanction that the 'law' was letting you loot and kill Sikhs.

    With me in the car was Sevanti Ninan, the columnist, Ashwini Sarin the star reporter and later chief reporter from the Express, and some Joshi I think, a reporter from Jansatta. Someone pointed out where the killings had been taking place. I turned into a street and drove down, but we were stopped by a group of men, many of them in white kurta-pyjamas, with the Congress of the resettlement colony kind written all over them. Everything was fine, there had been no trouble at all, and we should go back, they said.

    Further up, I saw someone leaning out of a door and beckoning to us to come forward. We ignored the men in kurta-pyjamas and drove on. The man there had shaved off his beard, and cut his hair. More than 150 of the Sikhs in that area had been killed the previous night, he said to me in Punjabi. And these men were now preparing to come and finish off all the rest, and they would come also for the women, he said. He begged us to save them; we were the first contact they had had with anyone beyond those encircling men. We promised to do all we could to help, and turned back.

    The Congress party men (they were indeed from the Congress as I later confirmed) blocked us. They were now afraid that we might now go and report them, now that we had spoken to one of the surviving Sikhs within the colony. The man closest to me suddenly punched me hard on the face. He then tore at my shirt and snatched my note pad. Just then, someone was trying to open the back door to the left, where Sevanti was sitting. I didn't wait a moment; I put the car into gear and drove off fast, dodging narrowly some chaps who tried to block us.

    We were then able to make some phone calls to the police headquarters and to the local police. We know that rescue teams were sent, and that with army units out in that area that evening - finally - people there were safe, and there were no more killings out there.

    The fact is that when and where the police chose to act, they were effective. As was the police officer Maxwell Pereira. A mob was advancing upon Sis Ganj gurdwara in Chandni Chowk, and some Sikhs came out carrying swords. Over their dead bodies, they shouted. Pereira sent them back in. He then ordered a constable to shoot dead one chap from the advancing mob. And then ordered his men to display that body to the mob - this would happen to them if they advanced further. The mob vanished, and the gurdwara was protected. Brutal policing - but effective.

    East Delhi

    But such action was rare. Nowhere did the police seem to do less policing than in East Delhi. Large-scale killing had taken place, we kept hearing. I went there, and confronted this officer Sewa Dass on duty because Rajiv Gandhi was to visit East Delhi. Two people in East Delhi had died, he told me. The official count showed later that more than a thousand had been killed in that part of Delhi. The police were covering their inaction, and worse, with lies, lies, all over the place. We really had no source of information that we could trust. The only way was to run around and check out as much of hearsay as we could. Too, too often it all turned out to be much worse than what we heard.

    But Sewa Dass had certainly used his police force to 'tidy up' the area for Rajiv Gandhi's visit. Bodies had been dragged away, some in that rush were just hidden from the sight of what a passing motorcade might see. In the end Rajiv Gandhi did not come. And so he did not get to see that as the police had showcased it, 'all was well'.

    The police gave us the line that the local Sikhs were the aggressors, and were attacking people. Sikhs had barricaded themselves inside the Durgapura gurdwara, the DCP said, and had attacked what he said was an innocent crowd. And so naturally, people had retaliated. Sewa Dass said. Joydeep and I decided to walk up to the gurdwara. And there, all we saw were some people, many of whom had cut their hair, huddled and in hiding, crying out for rescue. No armed people around preparing to attack the innocent outside; it was absolutely the other way round. Before Joydeep and I went in there, no one, and certainly not the police had come to see what was going on, and to ask if they might need help.

    Killers Protected

    All through it was clear that the police were taking no action against killers, if not actually protecting them. I saw that obliquely when I went to the Karol Bagh police station a couple of days later. When I reached Karol Bagh police station, there was an almighty row going on within. It seems that the Congress MP Dharam Dass Shastri and some of his fellows were arguing with the deputy commissioner of police Amod Kanth. Kanth's senior Hukum Chand Jatav was backing the MP against Kanth. Shastri and his fellows wanted Kanth to release their chaps who had been caught looting. Amod Kanth was shaken, almost in tears. I was watching all this though a window from outside, after Jatav had me thrown out of the room. I remember that at one point the SHO came out shaking his head. Every time the police want to do something, the politicians stop them, he said.

    I later challenged Hukum Chand Jatav, then additional police commissioner for the range over what had happened at the police station. It did not happen, he said. But I had seen and heard, I said. No I had not seen anything or heard anything, he said. Officials denied everything, and by official records, more than 3,000 people were dead.

    There was a follow-up to that incident. Dharam Dass Shastri was denied a ticket for the parliamentary elections. And I gathered later from Rajiv Gandhi that this was because of this incident. I was later covering the elections for The Indian Express, and I had gone to an election rally in Amethi. I found Sonia Gandhi at the rally, more or less standing on her own. I walked up to her to ask if I could find Rajiv Gandhi somewhere. She said he would be along, and he was, very soon. I then spoke to Rajiv Gandhi, briefly, asked him the question that everyone was asking. That Congress leaders had been involved in the violence, and why was action not being taken. He said to me that in one case they had found wrongdoing, and denied a ticket. That clearly was a reference to Dharam Dass Shastri.

    There was no time for further questions. But it left that question hanging, whether that sort of action was enough, and against one person. Serious questions had arisen about other MPS, against whom no action seems to have been considered. Sure, there was a trend then of painting them all killers. Including poor Jagdish Tytler, whom I have never seen after 1984. From all I could see and others said, Tytler was in no way involved in the killing. So far as I can remember, when the killing started he wasn't even in Delhi. That leaves open the possibility, theoretically, that he may have given orders on the phone, but I doubt it; none of the pattern of violence that broke out in his area seemed to suggest such a thing.

    Fraction

    We knew even then, how tragic it was that we were able to do so little, we knew acutely also how small a fraction of everything our reporting was. We knew that there were many, many more scenes of killing we simply never got to, we were only three reporters who were going out, it took a long time getting anywhere, and we had to be back in time to file our reports. How overnight it all changed, how our news values changed. Rushing back to our typewriters back in the office at eight in the evening we were told someone had called from somewhere to say there were bodies here, bodies there. There was nothing we could do, we could not even report what we heard like this, even though later many of these reports turned out to be true.

    What we did in the Express we could not have done without support from our editor, George Verghese. He made it possible for us to go. And to get past the simplest kind of obstacles that office bureaucracies place - like taking the car when no driver was willing. And back to file at the end of a day knocked out by what we had had to see, and by exhaustion, George Verghese had food cooked for us in the office, and he himself brought it to us, and served it to us as, we sat writing our stories. And it was not only for this that so many of us have always thought of him as a great editor, and a great man.

    The Injustice Later

    The reporting done, there was more to do. It was clear that we were more than reporters, that my eyewitness accounts could make me a useful witness once the reporting was over. And so when the Mishra Commission was instituted into the killings, I filed three affidavits before it, where I had seen police inaction and the presence at least of Congress leaders. My affidavits were turned down in what seemed like Kafkaesque fashion - I could not prove I was there and therefore it could not be established that I had seen what I had seen.

    They asked me at the commission whether I could produce an independent witness who could prove that I had been there. Then they asked me to produce a logbook from The Indian Express which might record where all I had been at precisely what time. I was outraged by the demands, and said so. Which reporter goes anywhere with an independent witness in tow, who would in any case then not be independent, and who keeps such logbook? Calm down, don't react, a court official told me with a professional smirk. I was just being naïve, wasn't I, too immature to know the ways of courts, and of the manner of handing out justice known to that Supreme Court judge who sat on his exalted seat in that room.

    I presented the affidavits again before the Vaidyanathan commission and someone asked where precisely I was at how many minutes to 4pm. I couldn't remember 17 years later then where I had been to the minute. I doubt I would have remembered the next day.

    The fact is that one inquiry commission after another led to nothing. The only report that mattered was never made public - the inquiry by Ved Marwah, later the police commissioner. I am convinced that the report by Marwah - as bright and upright an officer as any the Indian police have ever had - is the most full account that exists into what happened, and particularly of the failings of the police. Which is why no government has made that report public.

    Heartening

    And yet through those bloody days and nights we heard also the most heartening stories. Of how many hundreds and thousands of Sikhs were saved by non-Sikh friends and neighbours. Many of these stories I heard only much later, at refuge and help centres for Sikhs that came up all over the city, and where my wife, then pregnant, was working day after day. And it is these stories - that had spread very quickly to Punjab - that meant no Sikh turned against any non-Sikh in Punjab. What everyone would speak of as the Punjab problem never was a Punjabi problem. These stories were not news - but they became known. And how that saved everything at the time, maybe even, how that saved India then.

    25-year-old massacre haunts India's Sikhs - CNN.com
     
  4. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    The dance of death in in Kanpur (25 years after Indira Gandhi's assassination)


    All hell broke loose in this cramped and crowded city, over 400 km away from the Indian capital, when news of then prime minister Indira Gandhi being assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on Oct 31, 1984, filtered down. What began as sporadic protests on the streets quickly turned into organised violence by evening.

    As many as 127 Sikhs and eight non-Sikhs lost their lives in the violence that gripped this city, a major industrial hub in Uttar Pradesh. And unlike Delhi where the violence played out for three days, all the killings were carried out over a span of 24 hours - between the night of Oct 31 and Nov 1, 1984.

    Armed groups prowling the streets began targeting Sikhs who had to literally run for cover. Their shops were attacked and set ablaze. As evening gave way to night, the mobs, better organised by then, turned wild, raiding predominantly Sikh localities and lynching every Sikh they could lay their hands on.

    It began when hoodlums, moving around in groups numbering 40 to 50 people, started pressuring Sikh shop owners and office keepers to pull down their shutters.

    Within hours, the marauding mobs fanned out. They began burning vehicles, assaulting Sikh employees returning from their offices and factories after their shifts. Even gurdwaras in certain localities were not spared. Soon they began targeting houses. The attacks became more violent and lethal.

    With a population of about three million then, Kanpur was the state's biggest city.

    A large chunk of those who spearheaded the violence lived in slums mushrooming in various parts of the city that was until then known as the 'Manchester of the East' on account of its huge textile industry, which is now virtually dead.

    Sikh-populated localities like Govind Nagar, Kidwai Nagar, Gumti No.5, Ranjit Nagar, Pandu Nagar, Rajinder Nagar and Daboli bore the brunt of violence. Incidentally, the mobs cutting across party lines knew their victims.

    And like in Delhi, the authorities looked the other way as rioters had a field day. The alleged support extended to the mobs by then district magistrate Brijendra Yadav, whose role came in for sharp scrutiny by the Ranganath Misra Commission that was subsequently appointed to investigate the cause of the riots, emboldened the rioters.

    Yadav was indicted by the one-man Commission but managed to get away with just a rap on the knuckles.

    In his report, Misra, who eventually gave the Congress a clean chit for the riots, went to the extent of condemning Yadav's role. The testimony of Captain Bareth, an officer of the 16 Maratha Light Infantry, who was deployed there after the state government handed over administration to the army, is proof.

    Bareth's statement depicts how Yadav refused to sign the handing over papers and how he reportedly abetted in the killing of innocent Sikhs of Kidwai Nagar locality where at least 14 Sikhs were burnt alive and hundreds injured by a mob Nov 1.

    Misra said the non-enforcement of prohibitory orders banning the assembly more than five people delayed the imposition of curfew and calling in the army to stand by the civil administration.

    While sporadic incidents of attacks on Sikhs were reported also from other parts of the state, including the capital Lucknow, it was incomparable to the systematic carnage carried out in Kanpur.

    Sardar Kuldip Singh, a former president of the Akali Dal (Tara Singh group) who single-handedly fought for the victims, is still struggling to get them their compensation.

    'Even 25 years after, I am still fighting to get thousands of victims a compensation package that was formally announced by the then government,' laments Singh, who later rose to become a Congress legislator.

    Former state governor Moti Lal Vora had in 1995 agreed to compensate victims for the loss of property and life. But his transfer from Uttar Pradesh only complicated matters and those who suffered that fateful night are still running from pillar to post.

    'Though the central government ordered a 10-time hike in compensation in 2005, those in Kanpur got nothing as they had not been paid in the earlier package,' observed Singh.

    Worse, the hundreds of families who migrated from Kanpur to Punjab following the riots got nothing as a rehabilitation package.

    (Sharat Pradhan can be contacted at [email protected])

    The dance of death in in Kanpur (25 years after Indira Gandhi's assassination)
     
  5. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    Lone Sikh ranger still beavers away (25 years after Indira Gandhi's assassination)


    When bloodthirsty mobs ruled Delhi's streets for three days, he and his pregnant wife managed in the nick of time to find shelter and escape unscathed. Rioters were looking for them during the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi on Oct 31, 1984.

    Twenty-five years down the line while the horrific memories still give him goose bumps, Harvinder Singh Phoolka, 53, the lawyer who has relentlessly soldiered on, battling for justice to riot victims, says the fight now is just for symbolism.

    'With systematic and concerted efforts to scuttle investigations and wind up committees at every stage, what can you expect?' exclaims Phoolka.

    A budding lawyer then, Phoolka and his four-month pregnant wife Maninder had to first take refuge in a tiny loft of their Hindu landlord's south Delhi apartment. After a day, he had to shift out again. With the help of an army convoy, both landed in another Hindu family's house.

    'Can you imagine the family was saving us from Hindu crowds?' recounts Phoolka nostalgically. Originally from Sangrur district of Punjab, Phoolka had come to the city only three years ago.

    Once calm was restored in the capital, he decided to go back. But a chance visit to a relief camp in east Delhi's Trilokpuri, however, proved to be a life-altering experience for Phoolka.

    'Over 400 Sikhs were killed in Trilokpuri that saw the worst violence and there was not one lawyer willing to help them,' Phoolka told IANS in an interview.

    'I changed my mind and Maninder supported my decision,' says Phoolka in his office in south Delhi's swish Defence Colony.

    Thus began his fight for justice during his days of fledgling legal practice.

    'The plight of orphans, widows and bereaved mothers in the relief camp hit me hard. I immediately changed my mind and instead of returning to Chandigarh, I chose to help victims of the massacre. Clearly their suffering was incomparably greater than ours.'

    Phoolka insists that he never took on the legal battle to pit Hindus against Sikhs. 'It was for rights, for justice. And unfortunately that has not happened.'

    In this incredibly long journey, he found help among several in the legal community, including Justice Ranjit Singh Narula, Soli Sorabjee, Justice V.M. Tarkunde and novelist Khushwant Singh.

    'I knew what I was doing. Taking on politicians and police officers was never going to be an easy task especially when both were involved. And considering the immense power they wielded, it made my job that much tougher,' says Phoolka.

    'I faced hostility in courts. I was dubbed as a terrorist and lawyers used to call me counsel for terrorists,' a sombre Phoolka recalls.

    But, Phoolka says, he was undeterred. He burnt the midnight oil for years on end and led the coordinated efforts of his spirited team of junior lawyers to collect evidence and write the affidavits of victims before government-appointed bodies and commissions.

    Though over 3,000 Sikhs were killed, there have been only 20 convictions and not one politician or senior police officer has been held guilty.

    'Most of the cases against politicians and police officers are over. They have already resulted in acquittals. Only four to five cases are left now like that of Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler,' he said.

    'Everybody knows the truth. Everybody, even those who swept the truth under the carpet, know the tacit approval by the political leaders at the helm of affairs then.'



    Lone Sikh ranger still beavers away (25 years after Indira Gandhi's assassination)
     
  6. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    It is very sad that a Sikh prime minister is not doing enough to get the perpetrators of this massacre to the noose.
     
  7. truthfull

    truthfull Regular Member

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    he is helpless as real power is in hands of nehru family.
     
  8. Pintu

    Pintu New Member

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    The perpetrators of this barbaric crime should be bought into justice who ever may him or her, this is vital to earn people's confidence on the system.

    regards
     
  9. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    How, Ironic that the very emblem of India is Ashoka's DharmaChakra or the Wheel of Dharma/Righteousness/Justice and the very motto of India is Satyamev Jayate or Truth alone Triumphs whilst the more an Indian politician commits adharma/evil/injustices the more triumphant is his rise in the political stratosphere.

    Indian philosophy exhorts that one ought to follow the path of Dharma, protect the weak, fight injustice and establish righteousness but sadly our history has many shameful incidents where the protectors of the law killed the weak, the upholders of the law failed to give justice and the lawmakers themselves profited from the orchestrated orgies of violence.

    Must we bear this molestation of our very culture by the wicked as our inevitable fate ?
     
  10. F-14

    F-14 Global Defence Moderator Senior Member

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    I agree with Pintu da the every offical right from the Top to botttom should he heald responsible for this genocide what did the Innocent Sikh people of delhi do to deserve this atrocity i hold the whole congerss hiracy at the time responsible for this all should be made to suffer for what they have done
     
  11. amitkriit

    amitkriit Senior Member Senior Member

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    This forgetting/not forgetting will change nothing. We rather require strong anti-riot laws which must be rutheless in crushing such incidents, without caring about the community/religion/ethnicity. It must be applied to all minority/majority equally. Justice delayed is justice denied. Leaders representing all communities must condemn any act of violence in name of religion/caste/creed, and should not selectively do so.
     
  12. Sikh_warrior

    Sikh_warrior Defence Professionals Defence Professionals

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    Living in Delhi, i went through this sad phase of life along with my parents and siblings. for few bad fish in the pond, lets not blame the while pond!

    My punjabi heart still beats for India...and will always till it is beating!

    Jai Hind.
     
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