GOVERNMENT ORGANISED CARNAGE [Sarkari Qatl-e-Aam]
WIDOWS AND OTHER VICTIMS SPEAK IN FIRST PERSON
Mrs. Kulwant Kaur
On October 31, nothing happened in our street. In the morning of November 1, a boy told me that a riotous mob had attacked some houses in Sagarpur. I told him that we had no such problem in our area and that all was quiet. After a while, when I went to the terrace of my house, I saw smoke billowing from a Sikh army Brigadier’s shop which had been set on fire. There was a big commotion. Some of us went to the police station to report the violence but the police told us that their men were not available for us. The same boy who had told me about the violence in Sagarpur came and said that Sikhs were being killed and their houses were being burnt. We locked ourselves inside. Meanwhile, our neighbours started attacking Sikh house. We were watching the violence from our windows. We had some Hindu children standing on our terrace. Seeing them, the crowd must have thought that no Sikhs live in our house and spared our house. We went and hid in our neighbour’s house that night and did not sleep at all. Mobs kept coming and burning the houses of Sikhs in the street. On the morning of November 2, The mob broke into our house and looted it At about 1 p.m. a neighbour came and told us that whatever had to happen had happened and advised us to go back to our homes. Besides, he said, nothing would happen to women. The day passed, during which our neighbours sent us food. At night, my elder son also returned home and I asked him why he had come. He said that he had been given a message. I asked my neighbours to give him shelter but they said that they were scared for their own safety because their house had already been raided. So, I hid him in the kitchen. At 11 p.m. the mob came and asked us who all were inside the house. We said, there were no men. The mob got on to the terrace and started searching the house for any tell-tale signs. Then somebody spotted a glass of tea in the lobby which my son had taken. They said there had to be somebody. Meanwhile, the son panicked and started running towards the neighbour’s house but the mob saw him and chased him. When they caught up with him, he said, he should be spared because he was a Hindu, not a Sikh. The mob then confronted me and asked me to tell them honestly if he was my son. ‘We will not harm him if you tell us he is you son’. So I told them that he was fear-stricken and lying and that indeed he was my son. ‘We will not kill him but hand him over to the police. Had we wanted to kill him, we would have done it in front of you, they said. And they took him away. Some of my neighbours accompanied the mob up to a distance but could not get him freed. Later, some people told me that he was killed in the street. Among those who took my son away were, Munna (who has a T.V. shop and whose father is known as nawab) and Puppi (Shanti Bahmni’s son who lives in street 21-22). Next day, some 30 to 40 people came to our street and ordered all Sikh men to come out.
I invited the mob to search my house. John Bambaiwalla was wearing my son’s clothes. He is the one who told the mob about my son being in the house and he also participated in the looting. On the evening of November 3, the army came and took us to a relief camp in the Gurudwara of Sadar Bazaar Delhi Cantonment.
Mr. Kewal Singh
I took off for Mumbai from Ludhiana on Frontier Mail on November 1.There were thousands of passengers in the train when some goondas attacked the train. We were in a reserved bogie. The mob separated our bogie from the rest of the train and threatened to burn it if we refused to open the doors. There were many Sikhs in our bogie but also some Hindus. They said the Hindus should get off. My friends and I did not have turbans over our heads. In fear, we started alighting. They stripped the Sardars naked and stabbed them in their private parts and disfigured their faces before throwing them away. Some dead bodies were left right in the door of the train with a poster, here is a gift from punjab.
As the train was approaching the station, the Hindus started instigating the mob. We saw a couple of other trains arrive in which we saw heaps of dead bodies. We were scared and went to the waiting room of the station and from there to the Sadar Cant. Gurudwara.
That night (on November 2), the mob came and tried to burn down the Gurudwara. Some shops around were gutted. During the following days, we saw many Sikh men, their shops and houses burning in the areas surrounding the Gurudwara, such as, Palam Colony, Sagarpur, Sadhannagar, Kailash puri, Uttam nagar and Rajnagar.
I was passing by the road and heard an old woman wailing. She was yelling away,’ I have lost everything, what will I do now, where will I go? I went close and held her hand trying to console her. She broke into loud cries and told me her story. She was preparing breakfast for her husband, about to leave for work, when she heard a big commotion outside. She wanted to know that was happening but then thought that it would delay her husband to work. She had not even finished making tea when a neighbour came running and asked them all to hide somewhere before Sajjan Kumar’s men came. She asked what their crime was for which they were going to be killed. Meanwhile, her husband and children also came to the veranda of the house and wondered why such a huge crowd was approaching their house. The mob was crying,’ Sajjan Kumar Zindabad, Indira Gandhi amar rahe, gaddaron ko bahar nikalo. Khoon ka badla khoon.’ Then they took her four sons and husband out and killed them with sticks and rods. They stripped her and her two daughters and raped them by turns. The mob was inviting more and more men to come and rape them. Her younger daughter lost her senses, she could not bear the experience. The old woman pulled her hair and asked me where she should go. I tried to console her and told her that she had to live for her two daughters. I also told her that whoever had committed the heinous crimes would be punished but, my words rang hollow even to me. What justice and what punishment can there for such crimes! I thought to myself.
Mr. Jit Singh
I left home for Faridabad on the morning of November 1. As I walked upto the Patel nagar bus stand, I felt people staring at me in an unusual manner. In the bus too, I met with strange stares but ignored it again. The bus reached ISBT from where I took a bus for Faridabad. There was a very eerie. Silence in the bus. I wondered why. The person I had gone to meet was shocked to see me there and asked how I had reached. He censured me for having come at all. Until then, I did not why he was making such a fuss about me being there. ‘But everybody else is moving freely why shouldn’t I’? I asked him. He argued that I should not go back home but I told him that everybody in my family-my wife, two sons and daughters each, would panic if I did not go home. At the Faridabad station I saw a train that was headed for Delhi. I tried but could not get into the train and hung on to the door of a bogie which had about 90 soldiers, mostly Sikhs in civilian dress. One of them let me in. When we reached Tughlakabad station, we saw a crowd of thousands, armed with sticks, rods, petrol, kerosene oil, knives, and other weapons. ‘Indira Gandhi amar rahe, Indira Gandhi Zindabad, Sikhs murdabad,’ they were shouting. Many Sikhs were pulled out and beaten to death or burnt alive. The train started again. I was hiding in the toilet and watching it all from inside. The train moved and I thanked God. Meanwhile, another Sikh, an army Captain also joined me in the toilet. We both knew we were face to face with death.
I was trembling all over and was worried about my children. I wondered why they were killing the Sikhs, what we had done. When the train stopped again we watched people scouting for Sikhs in every compartment. Then, somebody yelled that they should also look in the toilets (for Sikhs). We tried to resist but the mob broke open the door and pulled us out. It killed the captain with iron rods. I heard him beseech the crowd not to kill him because he was going home on vacation after a year of serving on the border. But nobody heard his pleas. After him, it was my turn. I gave them everything-my money, watch and turban but they started raining sticks on me. Somebody pushed me into a dirty drain. I was completely soaked in the dirty water, then they poured kerosene over me but, because I was wet, I did not catch fire. Meanwhile, another train came and they ran towards that for more prey.
I kept lying in the dirty drain for some time and when it became dark, I gathered courage and crawled to a standing train. There was no turban over my head, nor clothes except my trousers. I was badly injured and was bleeding from the head but, somehow, I got into the train and sat in a corner like a rat.
I was crying in pain. I was so thirsty that I thought if I did not get water I would die. A woman with her two young children had a water bottle. I begged her to give me some water. First she did not answer me, then she stared at me and, the third time, she told me to ‘ask Gurunanak for water’. I got so scared by her reply that I forgot I was thirsty.
The train reached New Delhi railway station. A police inspector, who, I later learnt, was from a Sikh family got me picked up me and taken to Lady Irwin hospital. I passed out when I reached the hospital and the hospital authorities, thinking me dead, sent me to the morgue. I regained consciousness in the dead of the night and found myself lying among a heap of corpses but I was too scared to move. After a while, an employee came to the morgue and I begged him to help me. He was kind enough to get me out and phone my neighbours, who came to hospital. It took them some time to recognise me. I was cold and naked. My neighbours hid me under the seat of their car and took me home. It took me six months of trauma-physical and metal, to be able to even step out of my house.
A SPECIAL STUDY OF THE MASSACRE SULTANPURI
The Sultanpuri colony had a mix of Hindus and Sikhs living there. A large number of Hindus were from the so-called lower castes and were employed as scavengers in different places. Sikhs included masons, iron-smiths, weavers, auto-rickshaw drivers, TV technicians, electricians and shopkeepers. Some Sikhs were also rickshaw-pullers, hawkers and labourers.
It is important to note that before 1984, people of this colony were living in perfect peace and harmony. Many Sikhs living here have vouched that they never had any communal trouble.
The mob attack on the Sikhs on November 1, 1984, therefore, surprised all of them. Eye-witness reports bear out that the mob included some local people and members of the backward Jat community living in the neighbouring areas. For instance, some of them came from Mundka village.
Sikh men were the first target of the mob. While hundreds of them were killed in the first go, some survived, either because they were given up as dead by the killers or because they managed to hide from the mob. The survivors have identified some of the killers as being local political leaders of the Congress party, policemen and some local residents as well.
In the process of identification of some of the killers, one thing that emerges quite clearly is that hardly any of the local killers, who included scavengers, mechanics, hawkers and other menial workers, initiated the attack. A majority of the killer mobs worked on a gameplan and under instructions, given openly, by local political workers and leaders who, inflamed passions against Sikhs and helped the killer mobs identify their shops, houses and other establishments. Repeated references have been made by the families of the victims to Chauhan, Bagri and Gupta as those who egged on the mobs. A former member of parliament, who has been identified by survivors, is Congress party’s Sajjan Kumar.
A clear pointer to the involvement of police personnel in the Sikh carnage is evidence given by the survivors in which they have named cops like Bhatti, who was not only involved in openly killing Sikhs but also helped the mob snatch away whatever small weapons of defence the victims could have used. One of the witnesses has said on record that the police took part in the killings, both directly and indirectly.
The survivors I talked to all gave similar accounts of who played what role in the carnage. For instance, kerosene oil, which was used on a large-scale to burn numerous victims alive, was personally distributed by Mssrs Brahmanand Gupta, Bera Nand, Master and Ved Parkash besides Doctor Changa. Others who played a direct role in the killings, include, Hanuman Rashawala Gujr and Gulab Singh, a godown-owner and a three-wheeler driver Omi. All these goons led the attack.
The attack on Sikh houses and shops started on the night of November 1 and continued unabated until the next evening. The mob was being directed to kill Sikh men and rape Sikh women. The mob was armed with sticks, iron rods and kerosene oil. Many Hindu neighbours tried to hide the Sikhs in their house but in spite of it, not many Sikhs were lucky to escape the subsequent violence. Sikh houses were identified and the mob returned repeatedly to their houses until it succeeded in getting its prey. Whatever could be looted was taken away and the immovable property of the victims was systematically destroyed, mostly gutted.
The killings were savage. One Sardar was pushed into a vehicle and set afire along with the vehicle. Women were not spared either. The mob knifed to death a pregnant woman and scores of others were gang-raped.
The Ranibagh Shakarpur relief camp had mostly women and young girls. And boys, if at all they were there, were under the age of ten. One of the families from Sultanpuri had 18 members, including, middle aged and young women besides children. All the four men of the family were killed in that was certainly not an isolated case. There is no earning hand in the family now. One of the women had delivered a baby a day before tragedy struck her husband and the rest of the family’s men.
Soon after the killings, most of the women in the camp were too dazed to speak. It took them days and weeks before they could even bring themselves to shed tears. An elderly woman was heard wailing, imploring the relief workers to poison us all. Why should we live? What for? was her refrain. Each of these women had seen grotesque violence directed against her father, brother and husband and none of them was ready to go back to houses where they lost their most precious relatives. Fourteen years later, they are all still away from their own colonies still roaming free, is it any wonder that these women cannot even imagine going back? That is besides the avalanche of memories that they fear will come back to haunt them. In Sultapuri, the worst affected blocks were A-4 (65 men were killed and 15 missing), P-1,2 and 3 (31dead and five missing) and C-3 and 4. Among the 2,000 people who came to the relief camp from this area, 157 were killed, 25 badly injured and 52 missing. This amounts to saying that one out of every two families lost its members to the violence. According to one observer, the number of those injured is surprisingly low in comparison to that of the killed. The violence did not end until the morning of November 4. According to one report, the SHO Sultanpuri, even summoned the survivors (men) to the police station and asked them to cut their hair and remove their turbans in front of him. At the end of the exercise each Sikh had to pay him 21 rupees (currency in odd number is given on auspicious occasions in India). The man hired to cut the Sikhs’ hair made 500 rupees in one day, the report added.
All the above facts bear out that the anti-Sikh violence was not spontaneous, as claimed by many important people in India, but, systematic and pre-planned.
In west Delhi’s Monogolpuri colony, an announcement from a police vehicle in Block G-1, saying that the Capital’s water had been poisoned on November 1 is what sparked off the anti-Sikh violence. Two other rumours, that Sikhs were celebrating Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination by distributing sweets and that trainloads of dead Hindus were arriving from Punjab, added fuel to the fire.
Anticipating trouble, Sikhs from several blocks went to the police station to seek protection. A woman from the relief camp later told us that the police had turned away the men from her family, saying, We cannot help you. In any case, you have to pay for what you did. Many eye-witness accounts confirm that police vehicles were used to transport the arsenal used in the violence, mainly kerosene oil. Some Sikh men from block X, who survived the carnage, said that the police was directly involved in dragging people out of their homes to be killed. Cops would raid a house and then hand over Sikh men to the mob.
The killers included Jats from a neighbouring village and some scheduled casts men from their own area. Workers and local leaders of the Congress party, according to several accounts, supervised the killings sitting in stationary jeeps and other vehicles around the attackers. In Mongolpuri, one Congress party member who finds a repeated mention in the eye-witness accounts is Malaram, said to have led about 300 people who attacked Sikhs. Others who are mentioned in these reports, include, Ishwar Singh, Salim Quereshi and Shukin, all Congress workers.
Former member of parliament, Sajjan Kumar, tops the list of those Congressmen who led the attack. A majority of the victims’ families say that the violence was master-minded by Sajjan Kumar. Allegations against him of having paid cash and other incentives, such as, liquor bottles to the killers are also quite common. A measure of the survivors’ belief that Sajjan Kumar was responsible for the violence is that when he visited a relief camp on November 4, the survivors openly told him he was a killer. The families of those killed refused to touch the food that he had brought to the relief camp. Nor did they allow him to speak.
The story on every woman’s lips was the same : The utter brutality with which men and children were killed, some of them forced to cut their hair before being done to death. All the 26 blocks in Mongolpuri were attacked and hardly any Sikh family was spared. As per the government list, however, only nine people were killed in this area whereas an independent survey by the Community party of India (Marxist), at least 51 men were killed. We were taken to several spots where dead bodies had been disposed off, including, a sewerage drain, where, according to some people, more than a hundred dead bodies were dumped.
The army went to the area on November 3 rescue Sikhs. A man in the relief camp later said that he was about to be set afire when the army trucks rolled into the park, where he had been made to stand with much ceremony by the killer mob. Before the arrival of the army, if there was any help available to Sikhs, it was from their neighbours and friends. Hindus as well as Muslims who put their own lives at risk by giving shelter to Sikhs. A Hindu resident of the area, Mr. C Lal’s story makes an obvious point. A victim of India’s partition in 1947, Mr. Lal says, he never imagined that he would ever witness the same kind of blood-bath again. His brother’s shop was burnt down because the mobs suspected he had given shelter to some Sikhs. Mr. Lal was instrumental in forming a peace committee in his area for the protection of the Sikh community during the days of violence.
The most heart-rending tales of violence were reported from east Delhi’s Trilokpuri colony. Five hundred Sikh men and children were burnt alive here in two days (from the night of October 31 to November 2). This chapter was authored by Congress party parliamentarian H K L Bhagat and the local police.
The violence here too was preceded by rumours that Sikhs were celebrating Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination and that they had attacked a group of Hindus from inside the local Gurudwara first. According to one version, the violence here was triggered off by Sikhs. However, from among any number of eye-witnesses we talked to, mostly Hindus, nobody could not confirm that he had indeed seen or heard Sikhs celebrating the killing of the prime minister. Some of them did say that, when a group of Hindus were approaching the Gurudwara, Sikhs fr5om inside came out with swords to defend the structure. The swords only drawn, not used.
After talking to the survivors from this area, the Hindu residents and some press reporters, who were there on the scene of the violence, it can be said that the role of the police in the carnage here was similar to its role in the violence elsewhere. Kalyanpuri police station, under which falls Trilokpuri, there are 113 police personnel, an inspector, who was doubling as station house officer (SHO) and 90 constables. The SHO reached Trilokpuri just when the violence started on November 1. The first thing he did was to remove the Head Constable and the other cops posted in the colony. With this step, he removed whatever fear the mob might have had of the police and whatever confidence the hapless Sikhs might have had of being protected.
The pattern of violence here was even more cruel. While men were brutally
killed, women and young girls, barely in their teens were gang-raped. Seven cases of rapes were formally acknowledged by a medical report of J.P. Hospital. There was no attempt by the police at any point of time throughout the three days of violence to stem it although the then Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Nikhil Kumar, who went on to become the Chief of Delhi police later had specific information about the unabated anti-Sikh violence in Block 32 of Trilokpuri.
Rows upon rows of Sikh houses were set on fire along with the inmates but the police control room recorded just three deaths in the area. A reporter from a Delhi-based daily newspaper, who went to Trilokpuri’s Block 28 at about 2 p.m. on November 2, was threatened by the mobs and his car was stoned. From there, he went to the police station where the SHO, Shoorvir Singh, told him that there was absolute peace in his area. This, when the reporter himself saw four dead bodies in a truck stationed outside the SHO’s office. One of the victims, he reported, was still half alive. Helplessly, the reporter left the police station only to see a crowd of 70 women and children wailing and howling as they were walking down Nizzamuddin fly- over. The reporter spotted some army men close by. He sought their intervention but they said they had no orders to intervene. Finally, the reporter made it to the police headquarters at ITO and met the area ACP, Nikhil Kumar. What he heard from Nikhil Kumar shocked him : I can only be a conduit for your message to the top but, otherwise, I am helpless, just a guest artists.
The determined reporter went back to Trilokpuri in the evening and saw heaps of dead bodies and burnt houses. The SHO he had met in the morning (who told him that all was quiet in the area) was there alongwith two constables taking a walk. The reporter went back to the police headquarters and was told by another ACP that there was no trouble in Trilokpuri as per their information. The reporter told him that he had personally seen about 500 dead bodies and had seen the cops doing a head count. Most of the bodies were beyond recognition, according to the reporter.
Senior police officers reached Trilokpuri on the evening of November 2, when the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had already been posted there and the survivors were making a beeline to some or the other relief camp. Some of the survivors including old men, women and children were either badly burnt or injured. Women were howling and narrating how their entire area had been handed over to the mob by the police. Several witnesses accused Dr. Ashok Kumar of congress party of having personally directed the mob to violence. The gravity of the violence in Trilokpuri can be gauged from the fact that stench of half-burnt bodies hit one’s nose much before reaching there and, on reaching there, what did one see? Dogs and rats nibbling at the corpses.
And, in the middle of all this violence and media reports about it, what did Delhi’s Lt. Governor have to say? The situation is under control. The situation sure was under control of killers and rioters who had the full support of the police to do what they pleased in the two days and nights of November 1 and 2.
With the police actively involved in the massacre and the administration looking the other way, it was only natural that the first help, at least in the relief camps for the survivors, came from volunteers of different organisations. Food and medicines came from these organisations. A woman gave birth to a baby on the same night as she arrived in the camp, in what is one of the many indications of the poignancy of the situation. The authorities, however, sent no help either for her for those who were badly injured.
It was the volunteers who went to the rescue of Sikhs hiding in their neighbours’ houses and shops. The District magistrate had to be literally coaxed into lending a helping hand in the rescue operation. The survivors were later assured all help from the authorities but got none. Farash Bazar camp, where the survivors from the worst-affected Trilokpuri were sent, saw lots of relief measures taken by voluntary organisations but hardly any by the government and, yet, it has been held up by the government as a perfect specimen of its relief work. Such claims are as true as the authorities’ claims about there being no threat to peace in Trilokpuri at the peak of violence.