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Gateway to Sikhism

An Assessment Of The Situation

Delhi: Chapter 3

On the morning of Ocober 31,1984, after Smt. Gandhi had been removed to the AIIMS with bullet injuries and when she succumbed to them, there was, as it were, a political vacuum. The Head of the State was away from the country in Yemen Arab Republic. On his return, Shri Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as Prime Minister of India. By the time the mother was injured by bullets, he was away somewhere in West Bengal and before he returned she was dead. He had lost his brother four years earlier. Now the mother was dead being killed by the people detailed to guard her. He must have been indeed terribly shocked and it is difficult to describe the type of mental agony he must have then been undergoing. He was called in to shoulder the responsibility of Prime Minister of India without any time to get mentally tuned to undertake the heavy responsibility of that august office.

After being inducted into the office of the Prime Minister, he made an effective appeal to the nation through the T V at 9.50 P.M. where he said :

" My dear Countrymen, On this the saddest day of my life I speak to you when I am totally overtaken by the dark cloud of cruel fate. Our beloved Mrs. Indira Gandhi is no longer with us. I have lost my dearest friend, we have all lost one of the greatest leaders our country has ever produced and the world has lost a harbinger of peace who was undoubtedly the greatest woman leader mankind has ever produced......The loss of Mrs. Gandhi is for me unbearable. In spite of her pre-occupation with her official duties, we met often. For me each such meeting was a memorable experience.....The dastardly act of assassins which is not only heinous but a crime against humanity itself, has put the nation to test at an extremely critical juncture of our history. The unity and integrity of the nation is being challenged. Let our grief not cloud our good sense and maturity both as individuals and a nation. God shall grant us the strength to meet the new challenges."

He also instructed the people concerned to take effective steps to see that there was no deterioration in the law and order situation. If necessary, he advised that the Army may be called in. When the news of Smt.Gandhi 's death spread , thousands of mourners started calling upon the new Prime Minister to convey condolences. The dead body was taken from the AIIMS to the official residence at 1, Safdarjung Road. It was decided to keep the body in state at Teenmurti Bhavan for a few days to enable the people of India as also Heads of States of the world to pay respects to the departed soul and participate in the official funeral. Funeral was fixed for November 3, 1984. Hundreds of thousands of people started collecting in Tenmurti Bhavan to have a last glimpse of their beloved leader . Arrangements for reception of the visiting dignitaries from different countries who were coming to participate in the funeral had to be undertaken. Keeping up to protocol, Shri Rajiv Gandhi had to receive many of these dignitaries . Evidently Smt. Gandhi had been killed in the hands of the security guards on account of lapse in security arrangements. The way in which she had been killed left scope for doubts about the efficacy of the security. The situation had indeed been an alarming one . Whether evil designs had come to an end with Smt. Gandhi being killed was not definitely known. It is in these circumstances that Shri Rajiv Gandhi had been called upon to shoulder the arduous responsibilities of the office of Prime Minister of the largest democracy.

In the morning of November 1, Smt. Gandhi 's body was taken to Teenmurti Bhavan from No. 1 Safdarjang Road to lie in state so that the mourners could take the last glimpse of her physical body . The arrangement at the Teenmurti Bhavan was two-fold-VIPs were permitted to come into the room through the guided entrance to file past the dead body and those who wanted to make entries in the condolence register were permitted to do so; the common people were allowed to march past on the outer side without coming into the room. Thousands of people thronged in the premises of Teenmurti Bhavan in the morning of November 1, 1984. The Delhi Police found it almost impossible to keep control of the situation at Teenmurti Bhavan and by the afternoon the Army had to take over the control. The low key of the Delhi Police seen at Teenmurti Bhavan was an exhibition of lack of leadership, imaginative planning and incapacity to control mobs in an odd situation.

In several of the affidavits filed before the Commission it was alleged that through the Doordarshan on November 1, 1984, a program was arranged wherein it was said "khoon ka badla khoon" (blood for blood) obviously suggesting that as Smt. Gandhi had been murdered, the community of the two murderers should also be done to death. It was suggested that Shri Rajiv Gandhi was within the Teenmurti Bhavan during the morning hours of November 1, 1984. His presence there was quite natural and he had obviously nothing to do with the T V program.

The Union of India denied having undertaken any program in which Doordarshan had permitted shouting of a slogan - ' blood for blood' . It appears that after the dead body was taken to Teenmurti Bhavan on November 1, live telecast arrangement had been made covering the dead body lying in state and the people who would move around either in the room where the dead body was kept or the crowd that would fly past on the outer side at the lower level so that millions in the country who could not come to Delhi would be able to associate themselves with what was going on at Teenmurti Bhavan. In the morning of November 1, a group of people passing through the passage at the lower level did raise the shout 'khoon ka badla khoon'. Since the live telecast arrangements had then been working, the crowd along with the shout did come on the TV and their shout was heard. When directed by the Commission, the Director-General of Doordarshan appeared before it and explained the situation in which this part of the program had been covered and to substantiate the explanation, he exhibited that part of the cassette where the shouting crowd were seen and their shout was recorded. The Director-General explained that the officers of the Doordarshan never apprehended that a crowd paying respect to the departed leader would raise such a shout which on account of the live program would get televised. The moment this was realised the live telecast arrangement was switched off. When the cassette was played, the Commission found that the shout had been repeated for 18 times spread over 37 seconds. The impugned shouting came all of a sudden at high pitch which probabilizes the position that Doordarshan people could not have apprehended it. It melted away as the crowd was pushed ahead by the police. From the original cassette , the Commission has made a copy. Though it had been alleged that this telecast was arranged, the Commission is of the view that neither the Prime Minister nor any one in Government had any role to play in the matter and the Doordarshan authorities did not intentionally do anything . The time lag between the objectionable matter being telecast and the switching off also is not unreasonably long to suggest, as alleged , that Doordarshan wanted it to continue. The Director-General of Doordarshan also told the Commission that care was taken thereafter to keep off any objectionable matter from being included in the live program.

There is no basis for the allegation that the All India Radio and Doordarshan had given out the news that Smt. Gandhi 's assassins were two of her Sikh guards and circulation of such information through news media helped generation of anti-Sikh bias. The Commission has scrutinised the news scripts of both media for the 31st October and 1st November and it is noticed that there is no mention at all that the assassins were Sikhs. Mention of this information in ordinary course would have been considered as usual but discretion appears to have been exercised thoughtfully in this case.

It was unfortunate that the happenings in different areas of Delhi were not being contemporaneously reported to Police Headquarters and there was, therefore, no proper feeding of what was happening even to the Administrator-Lt. Governor. Shri Gavai has admitted :

" I am inclined to agree that there was a failure in the channel of communication between local officers and the police and the district administration as also the Commissioner 's level . Consequently , contemporaneous and timely reports of incidents were not received at the other end . A true picture of the situation was not emerging and decision making was , therefore affected ."

Since this was the position at the level of the Administrator, the exact picture of what was happening must not have reached the Home Minister or the Prime Minister. There is material placed before the Commission from which it appears that while Shri Rajiv Gandhi was in mourning and was busy giving occasional attention to the dead body lying in state at Teenmurti Bhavan and receiving foreign dignitaries who started arriving from the evening of November 1, 1984 , he had tried to ensure maintenance of law and order and was giving directions in that regard. He requested the visiting Chief Ministers to return to their respective States and ensure that all possible steps for the maintenance of law and order were taken . When the worst had happened on November 1, Members of Parliament and other leading people started raising hue and cry and ultimately called upon the Prime Minister. An assessment of the situation was then made. The Lt Governor was attending this meeting. Shri Gavai has told the Commission :

"....after I had met the Prime Minister in the meeting of MP's at his residence I had asked for a personal interview with him and he obliged. He told me 'Gavaiji you should have acted more swiftly in 'calling in the Army '. I did not enter into any argument with him on that score but I said : "Sir, your mother was a great personage and that her assassination was a major calamity which had befallen the nation. Her assassination was bound to cause repercussions."

He continued :

" In the course of this talk, I pointed out that during the curfew period there were many occasions when bystanders came out of their houses just to see what was going on. Government did not expect the administration to shoot those people as curfew breakers. I further pointed out that any such move would have been a politically unwise action. After that when I was hanging about there the Prime Minister told me : ' Gavaiji , you are a heart patient and you should now take rest."

It is in the evidence of the then Lt. Governor that he was soon advised to proceed on leave. On November 3, he wrote a letter to the President wherein he stated:

"Although I have no reason to believe that I have failed in my duties in the unprecedented circumstances, I hereby resign from the post of Lieutenant Governor out of my sense of moral responsibility.

An indication of my intention to resign was given by me to the Cabinet Secretary and also the Home Minister on 2nd November , 1984 itself, but I had withheld it as it was necessary for me to oversee the arrangement for the funeral of the late Prime Minister from our side. "

The letter contains an admission of moral responsibility for what happened at Delhi. Perhaps it was something more than that. The Commission does not propose to go into that aspect and assess the extent of his responsibility. Shri Gavai had already suffered a major heart attack prior to the riots and had very likely become unfit to continue to take any physical load upon himself. He should not have been maintained in a key post like that of Administrator of the Union Territory at such a crucial period which had started soon after the Blue Star Operation. Shri Gavai is in broken health and when he appeared before the Commission, he gave the impression of having broken down after the riots and what followed thereafter. What the Prime Minister could assess on the 2nd November 1984, within two days of assuming office and after a few rounds to the riot affected areas should have been realised long before and perhaps Shri Gavai should have been replaced after he had suffered a massive heart attack. The post of Administrator should have been manned by a very competent person -- agile, astute, determined, experienced, farsighted, knowledgeable. The need for such a person for Delhi was all the more so on account of the primacy of this Union Territory as covering the seat of the country's capital and in the back drop of the development that had then currently taken place.

There is material on record that Shri Rajiv Gandhi moved in certain affected areas on 2nd November with a view to having a spot assessment of the situation and for boosting up the morale of the riot victims. Even on the 3rd he took another round as would be noticed later. On the morning of 4th November Shri M.M.K. Wali, the then Home Secretary was sworn in as Lt. Governor.

On November 3, the cremation took place and once the cremation was over the Prime Minister who was until then busy in receiving visiting dignitaries and overseeing the arrangements for the cremation started devoting almost full attention to the riot situation. The Commission is of the opinion that Shri Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister, notwithstanding the handicapped situation in which he then was, took all reasonable steps expected of him to meet the situation that arose following the assassination of Smt. Gandhi. He even moved into the affected areas against advice on the ground of security and made a personal assessment of the situation and boosted up the morale of the victims. His appeal on the 31st October, his address to the nation on the 1st November, the condemnation of riots in strong terms , his action in sacking the Administrator and the overall posture adopted against the mad crowd leave no scope to entertain the allegation in a couple of affidavits that he too had something to do to help the unseemly situation.

In quite a number of affidavits there was allegation that Shri H.K.L. Bhagat, Minister in Smt. Gandhi's cabinet and continued in Shri Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet, insinuated the non-Sikhs to take revenge on the Sikhs as two of their people had murdered Smt Gandhi. Implicating of Shri Bhagat in the affidavits before the Commission was perhaps in the air and hundreds of affidavits were filed before the Commission , a few from Sikhs and mostly from non-Sikhs to say that Shri Bhagat had no role to play in organising the riots ; on the other hand, he had helped the Sikhs and attended to their discomforts and looked after rehabilitation. The Commission has dealt with these affidavits separately and for reasons indicated there not much of reliance has been placed on most of these affidavits. Even if these affidavits are kept away, the allegations made in the affidavits from the victims' side have to be scrutinised on their own merit. Excepting a handful of affidavits where it has been alleged that Shri Bhagat had come to meetings along with some other local Congress (I) leaders in the night of the 31st October or in the morning of the 1st November , and in a few affidavits alleging distribution of money by him to boost up riots, the allegations are not very positive or specific. The Commission had no intention of separately dealing with the case of Shri Bhagat but as this was very much highlighted, was inquired into by the Investigating Agency, evidence about it was specifically led and the affidavits which the Commission has not very much relied upon were pressed into service, the Commission has thought it appropriate to deal with it. The Commission makes it clear that these are prima facie conclusions as far as he is concerned. In the list at p. 219 of the written arguments of the Committee where 16 instances are cited he is said to have held a meeting of party people. The evidence regarding what transpired at the meeting is scanty.

Shri Bhagat was a sitting Member of Parliament from East Delhi constituency wherein a bulk of the tragic incidents have happened. Some people belonging to the Sikh community have deposed before the Commission that Shri Bhagat had good relationship with the Sikhs and had helped them during the November riots. Shri Gavai , the then Lt. Governor in his evidence before the Commission has stated that on November 1, 1984 , Shri Bhagat and Shri Jag Pravesh Chandra had been constantly ringing up Raj Niwas for assistance in the affected areas. Shri Gavai, on account of the treatment meted out to him, was likely to have a grievance against the Government and those in Government. His statement so far as Shri Bhagat is concerned, therefore , should be accepted as closer to truth. Shri Bhagat being a sitting M.P. and Minister was not likely to misbehave in the manner alleged. Shri R.S. Sethi , who was then the District Magistrate, has also spoken thus :

"I did not see any political leader of any party moving about to support the riotous mobs. In view of the fact that I was freely moving about during that period and came across several mobs in different areas , I am in a position to say that if they had really come out and joined the mobs, I could have seen them."

People of the Sikh community being electors of his constituency, Shri Bhagat, keeping the democratic politician's behaviour towards the elector in view, was not likely to antagonise the Sikh sympathy towards him.

There is evidence that in the election to the Lok Sabha held almost within seven to eight weeks of the riots, certain members of the Sikh community worked in support of Shri Bhagat. For instance, in the affidavit filed by Shri Tara Singh [No. 2531] it is stated that he so worked for Shri Bhagat. Some other Sikhs have also accepted that position. If Shri Bhagat had indeed played the role of an organiser of the riots, it is difficult to find even a single Sikh supporter in his camp. The rioters had no ' pick and choose' method in their operations and when they attacked a Sikh or his property they never enquired about his antecedents or party affiliation. It was an attack against the community. Shri Balwinder Singh [ no. 2163] , a member of the Sikh community stated in his affidavit that he contacted Shri Bhagat on 1-11-84 on telephone and apprised him of what was happening. He was then told by Shri Bhagat that Sikhs and Hindus should join and put up a common front to meet the situation. He also told him that he [Shri Bhagat] was trying to ensure arrival of a CRP unit within an hour. This is evidence of an assuring type and does indicate against the allegation with reference to Shri Bhagat. There is another material on record for consideration while dealing with this aspect. It is the case of the victims -- and has either been accepted or not seriously disputed by others--- that the attacking mobs used to swell up while moving on the lanes and roads --- a feature to suggest that the rioters were not an organised team and were made up by a section of the community willing to play to the mood of the people, satisfy their hurt sentiments by harassing the Sikhs and share the booty. Again, if violence had been organised, it would have spread into every corner and the manner in which it abated may not have been possible. In the absence of convincing material, the Commission is not in a position to accept the allegation that Shri Bhagat had instigated the rioters.

That violence was let loose in Delhi between October 31 and November 3 , 1984, is not all in dispute. Nor is there much of dispute that this violence was essentially one - sided , namely , the non-sikhs attacked the sikhs and damaged, looted and burnt their properties-moveable and immoveable, Gurudwaras and killed a few thousand of them. If the party in power or a minister or well placed person had masterminded or organised the riots , the same would had taken even a more serious turn. It is the case of all parties before the Commission that in certain area there was no trouble of any noticeable degree and two reasons have been advanced for such a situation-(i) effectiveness of the local police ; and (ii) raising of combined defence of the local residents. If the Congress (1) party or a powerful force in the party played any role, neither of these two elements could have functioned in the manner each of them has been ascribed. The Commission , with view to ascertaining what exactly worked to make the police passive, indifferent and callous, has perused a lot of contemporaneous records and examined several official witnesses. The Investigating Agency also did try in its own way to delve into the matter. In answer to searching questions put to the police officers, they have denied any political force to have operated behind the scene in the matter of formulation of their attitude and conduct. The manner and the setting in which the questions relating to this aspect had been asked would in ordinary course have brought out such implication if it were true to any extent.

The Commission has noticed that in a few affidavits the hand of the party politicians was alleged. Some of the deponents were cross-examined and they have not stood the test while some have not broken down. All the material on the record in the ultimate analysis is not evidence of that type relying on which the Commission can record a finding that Congress (1) Party or some leaders in that party had organised the violence which manifested in the shape of riots. The Congress (1) Party denounced riots by regular resolutions adopted at official meeting of the party. The Commission had at the instance of the CJC collected the newspapers published from Delhi during the 1st and 5th November, 1984. From the Hindustan Times 2-11-1984 , it appears that the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee ( I ) on 1-11-1984 released the following statement :

" Unity of the country was dearest to her ( Smt. Gandhi ) and she has given her blood for it. The unity of India must not only be preserved and strengthened through tolerance and communal harmony but also good neighbourly relations. Violence in any form anywhere in the country must be condemned and eschewed. The incidents of violence in the capital are condemnable and every citizen must cooperate fully in maintaining peace and normalcy in the counrty. Use of any violence in any shape or form would only negative and weaken the ideals for which Mrs. Gandhi stood and died."

The Congress ( I ) Working Committee on November 1, 1984 appealed to the countrymen to exercise restraint, maintain peace and harmony among all sections of the people and to uphold the unity, integrity and security of the nation for which Indira Gandhi laid down her life.

In the face of these resolutions of November 1, 1984 by the Central and Union Territory party organs, it is indeed difficult to allege, much less discover, unseen hands of the party behind the violence perpetrated so dastardly over member of the Sikh community at Delhi. If the Congress ( I ) party or some of its highly placed leaders had set the rioters to operate , one would expect the Sikhs with Congress base and affinity to have escaped the depredation. No distinction appears to have been made by the rioters and there is no single instance placed before the Commission where the plea of Sikh that he belonged to the Congress ( I ) had ever been acceded to by the rioters. It is in the written submissions of DSGMC on behalf of the riot-victims that even some of the enquiries conducted unofficially had led to the conclusion of suspicion only of such implication. The evident passivity of the police- a very unusual role in police history and tradition-gave rise to the scope for suspicion. Many perhaps genuinely thought-in the situation it cannot be said to be too far-fetched to be thought of-that it was the magic wand of the politician that tamed the police. Acting under impression which some have believed to be true, the allegation of implication seems to have been made.

Support for the conclusion of the Commission that uncontrolled events of the 31st October transformed themselves into riotous activity with the participation and monitoring thereof by the anti-socials also can be drawn from the facts highlighted in the written arguments furnished by the DSGMC. At page 221 ( of the written arguments ) it has been said:

" The mob was jubilating and dancing. There was no sign of sorrow and grief on their faces. They were no mourners of the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi but were totally unconnected with it."

Eleven affidavits being of Smt. Trilochan Kaur (no.2411) , Smt. Gurdeep Kaur (no. 2307), Smt. Harjeet Kaur (no. 2708), Smt. Sarabjit Kaur (no.166), Smt. Nanki Devi (no. 2550), Smt. Prakash Kaur (no. 2396), Smt. Prakash Kaur (no. 2407) Shri Tara Singh (no.2531), Smt. Balwant Kaur (no. 2690), Shri P. Miglani (no. 2527) and Shri B.S. Kapoor (no. 2376) have been cited with preference to the conduct and behaviour pattern of the people in the mobs in pages 221 to 224. Anti-social gangsters obviously had no mourning to observe. The troubled atmosphere provided them with opportunity to plunder and otherwise satisfy their animal desires and, therefore, the conduct exhibited of the people in the mobs shows that the constituents of the mobs were the anti-social ruffians and usually not the people of Smt. Gandhi's camp or party who ordinarily were likely to exhibit mournful conduct. As already extracted from the news report, they were in low spirit everywhere after the shock.

At page 226 three instances have been cited which show that outsider came and incited the local people to join the riots. Reference has been made to the affidavits of Smt. Prakash Kaur (no. 36), Shri Ishar Singh (168) and Shri Avtar Singh (172) ---all on the victim's side ----to show that outsiders came in a truck and incited the local people.

Along with these, the Commission would like to refer to an analysis presented at pages 216 -- 218 of the written arguments where a list of " organisers of the carnage " at the local level is given. Nineteen instances have been catalogued where people associated with Congress (1) have been named as organisers. Of them fourteen are described as workers either of Congress (1) on its youth wing ; four are said to local Congress (I) leaders and the other being the Secretary of a then Congress (1) M.P. Conceding that there is no particular reason to disbelieve the allegations so tabulated, considering the position occupied by these people, the Commission is not in a position to hold that from their participation, the Congress (1) party as such can be found to have organised the violence. On the other hand, these details supplied by the DSGMC fortify the conclusion that some people of the Congress (1) party on their own had indulged and participated in the turmoil for considerations entirely their own. Every person who takes a dip in the Ganges is not purified. Similarly, everyone in the Congress (1) is not a Gandhi believing and practising non-violence. The party label, therefore, does not attract the party nor takes away the individual element.

The Committee in its written submissions at p. 55 has stated :

" A perusal of the record supplied by the Fire Brigade shows that the violence started in the evening (of the 31st) from areas around All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The first call which the Fire Brigade received about fire was at 5.30 p.m. on 31-10-84. A careful scrutiny of the record shows that the rioters formed different groups, started from All India Institute of Medical Sciences and indulged in violence. One of such groups proceeded towards Defence Colony from AIIMS and on the way indulged in arson at Kidwai Nagar, NDSE I & II , Andrews Ganj Chowk and then at Defence Colony. Another group proceeded towards R. K. Puram from there and indulged in violence on the way.

One group proceeded towards Prithviraj Road and a different group towards Hauz Khas.......The routes followed by these groups can be easily traced on the perusal of the record of the Fire Brigade."

A map showing this route has been placed by the Committee with the timings of the incidents shown therein on the basis of the Fire Brigade records.

It is clear from these materials that arson on large scale had been undertaken by these mobs after leaving the AIIMS. In the written submissions it has been further started at p. 56 :

" By about 8 p.m. on 31-10-84, the word spread throughout the city and at some places in the city some persons indulged in violence. But till late night the main incidents of violence in the city were reported from the areas of South Delhi where the aforesaid groups were operating."

It is reasonable to hold on the basis of what has been said above and on the basis of the news report of incidents extracted while dealing with the incidents of the 31st October, that the genesis of the riots began from the AIIMS where large crowds had gathered following the removal thereto of Smt. Gandhi in an injured condition for medical attention. Soon after the President left after his cavalcade was attacked, not the dispersal of the crowd started and this crowd which had been impatiently waiting at the AIIMS for the news fate had in store, became divided into groups and moved away. There is no allegation much less evidence before the Commission that any plan was hatched at the AIIMS and/or passed on to the crowd. There is evidence which has been noticed in the written submission of the Committee that a good number of Sikhs had also come to the AIIMS and were in the crowd. If anything was hatched and spread, they would have known and were expected to disclose. The AIIMS was not the place where any planning could have been done. Again, that was not the time appropriate for hatching any plot. Anxiety and tension had spread everywhere and all the people who had been waiting to know whether the Prime Minister shall live or has perished could be in no mood to hatch a plan or talk to some one or group guiding them. Unless pre-planned ( Smt. Gandhi's killing being sudden there is no scope for the view of pre-planning) within such a short time and in that atmosphere no planning could have been done. Thus the stand that violence was organised is difficult to accept. On the other hand, as held earlier, the evidence fits into the position that when the incidents started taking place and the police remained passive , leading to the generation of feeling that if Sikhs were harassed no action would be taken, the situation fast deteriorated and the anti-socials got into the fray and gave the lead after taking over the situation.

It has now to be seen whether the violence was organised. The word 'organised' according the the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary means " to form into a whole with interdependent parts; to give a definite and orderly structure to; to arrange or get up something involving united action ". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning to be " to form into a whole with mutually connected and depended parts; to coordinate parts or elements so as to form a systematic whole ; to give a definite and orderly structure to ; to systematise ; to frame and put into working order; to arrange or ' set up ' something involving united action." Black's Law Dictionary gives the meaning as " to systematise; to put into working order ; to arrange in order for the normal exercise of its appropriate functions." Webster's Third New International Dictionary gives the meaning of the word as " to arrange or constitute into a coherent unity in which each part has a special function or relation." In Words and Phrases, Permanent Edition, the word is said to mean " to arrange or constitute in interdependent parts, each having a special function, act, office or relation with respect to the whole." Reference may be made to the chapter on Organised Crime in Criminal Investigation (IInd E will strive to be most comprehensive directory of Historical Gurudwaras and Non Historical Gurudwaras around the world.

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