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Gateway to Sikhism

1984 : One Hundred Hours in the Life of a City

Veena Das. Lokayan, January 1985

October 31

12 noon : Rumours that Mrs. Gandhi had been shot at by her guards began to be widely discussed. No information about the ethnic identity of the guards was available but people began anxiously speculating on whether they were Sikhs. Some Sikh friends wondered if an attack on her by Sikh guards would result in a retaliation against all Sikhs, but their fears were dismissed by others.

4.30 p.m: A massive crowd had gathered around All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Journalists like Dev Dutt reported that the crowd included many Sikhs who did not show any apparent fear. There was genuine concern and grief. At about 2 p.m. it became known through various sources that Mrs. Gandhi was dead. While BBC News provided an obituary to Mrs. Gandhi at 1.30 p.m., AIR?s official announcement was not made till 6.00 in the evening.

Meanwhile, in different parts of the city, mobs were intercepting vehicles and beating up Sikh drivers and passengers on the roads. The mobs elsewhere were found roaming armed with iron rods, steel trishuls and other weapons. Initially, the attacks were limited to South Delhi. It was also known that all the normal security precautions had been taken in the border areas and in the Punjab. Yet, on the 31st, when the attacks were confined to South Delhi, no attempt was made by the police to disperse these crowd. The 31st night was used to spread a variety of rumours. These included that :

Sikhs were jubilantly distributing sweets and Gurudwaras had been lighted up as on Diwali.

Terrorist had penetrated Delhi.

Sikhs were collecting arms and had grouped together to attack Hindus.

The city was without police reinforcements.

It was also reported from many localities that meetings were held between residents to draw up plans for defence against Sikhs. These not only included middle-class colonies like Kamla Nagar and Roop Nagar but also more exclusive areas like Press Enclave. In other places, the meetings were of Sikhs and Hindus to set up joint peace committees. These attempts, however, were confined to few areas.

News agencies reported that troops with automatic weapons were being kept in readiness. However, even though nearly ten hours had elapsed since the first attacks began, there was no attempt by the administration to effectively intervene to stop the violence.

November 1

There was a strange hush in the city. People were clearly expecting something. Eye witness accounts from areas on the border of Haryana testify that truckloads of men were being brought into Delhi. Young men were seen going round the city on scooters and motorcycles identifying Sikh shops and homes. In some localities, houses and shops were marked with chalk. Electoral lists and information from ration shops owners were used to facilitate this process. Patrols of police and army personnel seemed to be fewer than on the previous evening.

By noon, a systematic attack on the Sikh economic base was made. Shops were burnt and looted. Sikh factories, located in industrial areas were burnt to cinders. All taxi-stands were attacked. Over 500 trucks at Azadpur Mandi were burnt. This was also the time when some Hindu families began to search for their Sikh relatives and friends, in order to give them protection.

Intelligence about what was happening in the city was not lacking. At 11 in the morning, an army jeep was seen making a surveillance of the University and, in fact, the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University was apparently warned that trouble was expected in the Kamla Nagar area. 24 hours had now elapsed for the authorities to deploy the requisite forces, to impose curfew and issue shoot-at-sight orders.

November 2

The bloodiest day in the recent history in Delhi. Sikhs were dragged out of in-coming trains to Delhi, beaten and burnt alive, while officials were busy making statements to the effect that the everything was under control. This was the day when the carnage in Block 32 in Trilokpuri took place. Whole blocks in Sultanpuri were wiped out. Sikhs and their property in Gamri, Bhajanpura, Nand Nagri, were all targets of brutal attacks. The mobs consisted of residents and outsiders (in different proportions in different areas) and were led by local leaders of the Congress-I. (Countless statements by survivors and neighbours testify to this). Petrol, Kerosene and even explosives were mobilised on a large scale. Local dealers in Sultanpuri and Trilokpuri, for instance, provided the mobs with kerosene. The police was either not visible or they did not deter the mobs or, in come cases, they abetted in the orgy of violence. Fire engines were conspicuous by their absence. The army stood by helplessly with no specific orders to bring the situation under control. (Subhash Tandon the Police Commissioner, stated that ?fifteen, maybe, twenty people have died in violence during the day? .

November 3

Violence continued till two in the afternoon. Paramilitary forces were deployed and the army was, for the first time, given precise orders to act. The arson and killing in areas like Trilokpuri had continued unchecked for over fifty hours. The mobs came again and again to kill and to burn till there was little left to burn, almost none left to kill. AIR announced the imposition of curfew and shoot-at-sight order. This was over 48 hours after the first announcement on November 1. Camps were started for the Sikhs at the initiative of private citizens.

The camps were manned by concerned citizens, known action groups in the city, a large number of student-volunteers, and members of some Christian organizations. The organizers were totally dependent for food and medicine on voluntary donations. The administration made no sign of taking the responsibility for the survivors of the carnage and arson.

November 4

There was a false sense of relief. People felt that the army was now in control. It was in this context that the last round of killing began in colonies on the Delhi-Haryana border. Among them was the Singh Colony near Badli Village where arson-killing was organised on a similar pattern as Trilokpuri.

The period following those four fateful days was marked by ups and downs. The relief camps in Rani Bagh, Ludlow Castle, etc. were forcibly closed in the third week of November. Some perpetrators of violence were arrested and released on bail. The main instigators and planners of the violence remained inviolate. They are all still at large, some occupying positions in the newly constituted government and ruling party.

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