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1984 riots: crime sans punishment

punjab Updated: Apr 13, 2013 09:10 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

As we await Jagdish Tytler's tryst with trial, a rewind to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots becomes essential. If you were in Delhi on November 1, 1984, and climbed atop a tall building, thousands of columns of smoke could be seen rising all over the city. You would have thought that perhaps Nadir Shah was on his second visit to Delhi.


As Nadir Shah's army entered Delhi, some of his soldiers went around looting property and molesting women. A few spirited citizens killed one such offender of women. That was a great affront to the conqueror and the citizens of Delhi had to be punished. Nadir Shah unsheathed his sword and gave his army the freedom to loot, burn property, commit murder and rape, till he put his sword back in the scabbard. His troops carried out this task with military precision. He finally sheathed his sword after three days.

Two misguided Sikh guards broke trust and committed the abominable act of shooting the Prime Minister. So the entire Sikh community had to be taught a lesson. What Nadir Shah did to citizens of Delhi in the opening decade of the 18th century, was repeated in the penultimate decade of the 20th century, but this time only the city's Sikh population was punished.

For three full days, rampaging mobs went about their business, with the government of India, most shamefully, having gone into hiding. Were the government and law-enforcing agencies quarantined during those three days? Such an edifice of law and order machinery could not have collapsed all by itself! Who, like Nadir Shah, had given the signal that Sikhs must be taught a lesson, which led to looting, murder and burning alive of Sikhs of Delhi, torching their gurdwaras, till the time Indira Gandhi's body lay in state: a coincidental period of three days. Who organised these mobs and gave the assurance that hunting Sikhs was fair game and no one would be held accountable?

The union government, during those three days, was not comatose, but actively involved in keeping the police in check and preventing them from performing their mandated duty enjoined by law. Later, the home ministry, most shamefully, prepared a "dressed up" action-taken report (ATR) on the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry.

Even though the army was called, albeit late, the mayhem and pogrom continued unabated for the next two days, when restoring order by the military was possible in a matter of four to six hours. Firm action at one or two places would have made the mobs, all over Delhi, run for cover. RD Mehra, who was part of the brigade moved from Meerut (Uttar Pradesh), in a letter to the Hindustan Times editor, wrote that it was the Lt-Governor's office which instructed the brigade second-in command to withdraw 15 Sikh Light Infantry battalion from the duty of controlling the mobs and move it to the Delhi Cantonment, where it was put on administrative duties for the brigade. Who wanted this unit, which was feared would act against the rioters, withdrawn from the task for which it was called from Meerut? What was the order for the rest of the army?

Many of the lower-rung police functionaries actively encouraged the mobs and in some cases even led them, while those in the higher echelons turned a Nelson's eye to happenings in their areas. Finally, all such police personnel and politicians were rewarded with promotions and ministerial berths.

No one from hundreds of respectable citizens of Delhi, who were witness to the pogrom and saw small-time Congress leaders instigating and leading the mobs in arson and killing, came forward to give evidence. Nine commissions and almost 29 years later, we are nowhere the truth, because truth is too bitter and unpalatable and the guilty cannot be brought to book because it tarnishes a political party's image.

More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed, but only six persons have been punished. Thousands of these murderers and rapists have been freely roaming the streets of Delhi. What contribution did they make to the city's crime graph and earning it the epithet of India's rape capital?

The reason for the pestilence of communal riots periodically visiting the nation is the knowledge and belief that no one will be held accountable for the pogrom and that the support of the government of the day will be at hand.