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Remembering the Slaughter of 1984

Omkar Goswami


Fifty eight years after independence, I have to admire the sense of fairness of our blessed nation. How else can we explain to our children that two decades and ten months after thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered on the streets of Delhi in a  pogrom that was directed by Congress goons and facilitated by the police and local administration, the best that the government could do was to induce Jagdish Tytler, a prime instigator of the 1984 riots, to put in his papers? That another villain called H.K.L. Bhagat has been allowed to spend the rest of his fading life in peace in view of his illness and infirmities? Or that the hoodlum of outer Delhi, Sajjan Kumar, still rules his political roost?


At this rate, we will doubtless have to wait until 2024 before some report or the other points its fingers at Narendra Modi for what happened in Gujarat — when he too will be allowed to spend the rest of his days in peace in view of his age and ill health.


Let me share with you some facts of the three grisly days of 1984. I was a part of the Nagarik Ekta Manch, an impromptu group consisting of concerned citizens of Delhi who spent a considerable amount of their time and resources in saving Sikh families from certain death, documenting what happened to prepare affidavits for the Ranganath Mishra Commission, and actively helping in the rehabilitation process. 


I was working in the trans-Yamuna area of Gambhri, Khajori Khas, Bhajanpura and Seemapuri, which doubtless the readers of this magazine know nothing of. On 1-2 November 1984, it was nothing other than Congress sponsored mayhem. Kerosene used to be distributed to ration card holders on the 1st and 16th of each month. Thus, on the evening of 31 October, as the body of Indira Gandhi lay at the All India Medical Institute, every kerosene shop was fully stocked. That night, the kerosene was diverted to the goons — fuel that was used to burn the Sikhs and their houses. Functionaries of local government schools and ration shops listed the names and addresses of Sikh families in the neighbourhood. Early in the morning of 1 November, Congress volunteers pretending to be good Samaritans went and marked the Sikh houses with black tar — allegedly to identify these for Army evacuation. From around 11 am of 1 November, the killings began in dead earnest. The houses and families were identified; the kerosene was distributed; all it needed was for blood thirsty mobs — egged on by local goons screaming “Khoon ka badla khoon” — to block both sides of each narrow lane, and then kill, loot and burn with impunity. The police and administration did nothing. In fact, the cops actually told the rioters that they had two clear days to do what they had to do before the army came in.


I still remember an old Sikh gentleman who the army saved in the nick of time and brought to the Nanak Sar Gudrwara. I was taking his statements to register with the police. He had lost six of his family — three sons and three grandsons, who were burnt to death before his eyes. The rioters had tied him up; had put tyres around each of his sons and grandsons, doused them with kerosene and set them alight in front of him. He was to be the last when the army entered the locality and the rioters fled. Hearing that I taught at the Delhi School of Economics, he began to reminisce about Prof. Tapan Raychaudhuri, under whom he had worked at the National Archives. And he then said something which I will never forget: “Beta, I am a patriotic Indian. What did I do to deserve this?”


Twenty years and ten months before one killer has been induced to resign. If this is how we respect human rights and the rule of law, don’t be surprised if this nation sees violence time and time again — perpetrated by those who know that they will never be punished. More often than not, rewarded. If you don’t believe me, ask Bal Thackeray, Narendra Modi, Sajjan Kumar, H.K.L. Bhagat. The list is long.        


Published: Business world, August 2005


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