Delhi Riots – 1984 Eyewitness Accounts
This widow, a former resident of Kartarnagar (trans-Yamuna area), related that their house was looted and burnt by a mob on 2 November 1984. Her husband and two sons, one married only four months ago, were dragged out of the house and mercilessly beaten. Thereafter, kerosene was poured over the three men and they were set alight. No police or army was in evidence at the time. She could, she said, identify the person who killed her husband. Though she did not know his name. She was definite about the name of his father: a weaver of the area. She had originally come from Rawalpindi at the time of Partition. This was her second nightmarish experience of mob fury during which she had lost everything, including three male members of her family. She was accompanied by a completely dazed girl, hardly 16 years old, widow of her recently-married and recently-butchered son. This young girl sat through her mother-in-law’s harrowing testimony shedding silent tears of grief and despair.
According to this widow, mobs came to her neighborhood at about 9 am on 1 November and began stoning Sikh houses in the vicinity. Sikhs who happened to be out were advised by the police to return home and stay indoors. They followed this advice and locked themselves inside their homes. Soon after, the crowds returned and started breaking into individual Sikh homes. The men were dragged out, beaten badly and burnt alive. Then the houses were systematically looted and most of them set on fire. The Sikh residents of the area owned their homes. According to this woman’s estimate there were approximately 35 to 40 Sikh homes in the area, almost all of which had been destroyed and 55 men brutally murdered. Only five men from the area survive, owing their escape to their absence from home for one reason or another.
Case 3: Burning of Khalsa Middle School Sarojini Nagar.
On the afternoon of 1 November, at about 3.30 or 4 pm, a mob of about 250-300 men came to the school which has 525 pupils of whom 65% are non-Sikhs. The mob first set fire to the tents and the school desks. Thereafter, they demolished the boundary wall of the school. They then entered the building and broke open the steel cupboards and looted them. They stole the school typewriter, instruments belonging to the school band, utensils, etc. Two desks and seven steel cupboards were seen being taken away. They destroyed the library and scientific equipment in the laboratory. The school building was burnt as also the Headmaster’s scooter.
There were seven or eight policemen standing by who witnessed the mob’s activities but did nothing to stop them. When asked to prevent the mob from damaging the school, they said that they could do nothing. No arrests are reported to have been made nor has any other action been taken. The FIR was lodged on 7 or 8 November. The Sikh SHO of the police station, located within sight of the school, is understood to be a relative of a Congress-I leader. He is said to have been beaten up on 31 October while in uniform, and was not to be seen (he was either in hiding or under orders–the witness could not say) from 31 October to 2 November. It was further conveyed to the Commission that even though-the school imparts free education and is in receipt of a Government grant, no repairs of any nature had begun as on 18 December 1984. Neither was any furniture nor other equipment–not even books and stationery–provided.
A social worker informed the Commission that he had been associated with the Shakkarpur Camp as a voluntary relief worker since 6 November. The camp had been set up on 3 November and the administration had forcibly closed it on 13 November. When asked how it had been ‘forcibly closed’ down, he replied that the water supply had been cut off. He then asked the authorities how they would assist the inmates to return to their original homes and was told that they would be returned in the same way by which they had been brought to the camp!
A survivor from Mangolpuri, who had been operating his own scooter-rickshaw in shifts jointly with his brother, had been brought to a relief camp on 3 November by the army or CRP, he was not sure which. He related that there was increasing tension on 31 October after the news of the attack became known. He went to his neighbor for shelter and was given protection but told to cut his hair, which he refused to do. The following morning when a crowd came around, his neighbors asked him to leave their house. Sikhs emerging on the street were seized and their hair and beards were forcibly cut. The mob, who, he said, was from the same locality, thereafter indulged in violence and looted individual homes. However, the damage done was mainly to the woodwork. Some movable property was stolen.
Very early on the following morning, at about 4 am, the crowd returned, dragged the men out of their homes and beat them up. The neighbors pleaded for their lives and they were thus saved but only for the time being. In the evening the neighbors were also threatened with violence and that silenced them. Then five persons of his family–his brother, brother-in-law, uncle and two cousins–were belaboured with sticks and rods and burnt alive. Attempts to rape some of the women were, however, thwarted. The witness himself managed to escape by obtaining refuge in the house of a Harijan woman. On 3 November he was removed along with other survivors to a refugee camp. He named seven persons amongst the perpetrators of the crimes, one of whom was a local Congress-I worker identified as a supporter of a former MP.
A woman from Trilokpuri described her harrowing experience. She and her husband, a Labana Sikh, originally from Sind, had migrated to Rajasthan in 1947. About fifteen years ago they had moved to Delhi in search of better prospects. During the slum clearance drive of 1974-75, they had been resettled in Trilokpuri.
She and her husband and three of their children survive but the eldest son aged 18 was killed on 1 November. She described the mob led by the Congress-I block pradhan as consisting of some people from the same block and others from neighboring blocks and nearby villages. While the block pradhan identified Sikh houses and urged the mobs to loot, burn and kill, the women were herded together into one room. Some of them ran away but were pursued to the nearby nallah where they were raped. Their shrieks and cries for help fell on deaf ears. From among the women held in the room, the hoodlums asked each other to select whomsoever they chose. All the women were stripped and many dishonoured. She herself was raped by ten men. Their lust satisfied, they told the women to get out, naked as they were. For fear of their lives they did so, hiding their shame as best as possible. Each begged or borrowed a garment from relenting neighbors and sought shelter wherever they could.
The Commission gathered the following facts at the Sadar Bazar gurdwara (Delhi Cantonment).
Having heard of the news of the assassination, one witness feared trouble and brought his family to the gurdwara. He found that some other families had already collected there. Leaving the women and children downstairs, the men went up to the roof from where they saw a crowd collecting at the local Congress-I office about 200 yards away. They had come by truck at 8.30 on morning of 1 November.
This mob then advanced towards the gurdwara and started stoning the people they saw on the roof. The Sikhs had also collected some bricks which they threw at the crowd. When their supply was exhausted, the mob became emboldened and set fire to a shop which the gurdwara had rented out. The group of Sikhs, about twelve in number, collected all the swords available with them in the gurdwara and came out. The mob retreated in the face of this puny show of force. The police, who had been informed, came at about 3.30 pm. By that time, the fire had been put out. The police surprisingly expressed their inability to do anything further to help them. Consequently the Sikhs went back inside and locked the iron gates of the gurdwara. On 2 November, the army brought refugees from other colonies in the area surrounding Palam until there were 2,000 refugees in the gurdwara. They were housed, clothed and fed entirely by voluntary effort. The gurdwara itself fortunately escaped damage.
This victim’s family consisted of his father, four brothers, mother, two sisters-in-law, his wife and children. The family owned a bakery, a confectionery, a kirana shop and a small chemical industry.
On 1 November at about 11 am, a mob of some four hundred attacked the shop and the factory. The father and the four brothers came out and pleaded with them. Some local Congress-I workers arranged a compromise and asked them all to go back. Eight persons from the mob, who were looting inside the shops, also came out and went away. Fifteen minutes later a bigger mob of about two thousand came and burnt the shops and the factory. One of the local Congress-l workers had a fair price shop in his name which, because of the complaints of the residents, had been canceled and allotted to this family. That seemed to be the bone of contention. The victim’s house had the symbol ‘Om’ on the front and could not be identified as Sikh house unless it had been pointed out as such by a local person.
The victim’s father, three brothers and sister-in-law were beaten and set on fire. Some liquid chemical and a powder were used as incendiary material. The victim himself escaped by hiding in the neighboring house of a Jat friend. He cut his hair and went to Palam airport from where he returned to the gurdwara on the 4th. There was no help from the police. There was no electricity in the locality (Sadh Nagar) for 72 hours. Army rescue work started on 3 November. The victim, who is a young man, is left with his widowed mother, widowed sister-in-law, brother’s children and his own family to look after. He is not prepared to go back to his original home, which he considers unsafe, but is ready to settle down in Delhi in a safe area and to reestablish his bakery. He has already applied for a bank loan. The mob leader has been identified as a local Congress-l worker, who is said to be the right hand man of a former MP.
What follows is a summary of an eye-witness account sent to the Commission by a practicing Chartered Accountant (a non-Sikh) living in New Friends’ Colony. His account begins:
Delhi had been considered by us to be a civilized city. The news of rioting coming from different parts of the country from time to time had always carried an aura of remoteness–something which could not happen in Delhi. Or so it seemed up to 30 October recently.
He continues to relate that after the announcement of Smt. Gandhi’s death over the AIR, they began receiving telephone calls from friends informing them of incidents in various parts of the city–from lorbagh, from Ring Road, from Safdarjung Enclave—of Sikhs being badly beaten up and otherwise harassed. In view of the trouble, he and a friend decided to go to the airport later that night to receive a Sikh friend arriving in Delhi. On their way back they saw a car burning near the IIT on outer Ring Road. Then they saw a bus on fire. A little further on, they saw five taxis ablaze at a taxi stand. It was about midnight by now and, after dropping their friend at Panchsheel Enclave, they encountered several more burning vehicles and shards of glass from broken wind-screens littering the road. They saw only two policemen on the way home. Both of them were unarmed. One of them was hurling stones at the Sikhs along with the crowd. The other was urging people in the crowd to join in the attacks.
The crowd was armed with lathis, crow-bars and iron rods. They did not see any firearms, either with the crowd or with the beleaguered Sikhs. In New Friends’ Colony, they saw several Sikh-owned shops which had been set on fire. Intervening shops belonging to Hindus had not been touched. Two trucks parked nearby were set on fire. The crowd then invaded the gurdwara opposite the shops. They ransacked the rooms in the gurdwara compound and set fire to the buildings. Efforts to contact the police on the telephone were infructuous. He saw no signs of a police presence, much less intervention. The absence of the police, according to him, emboldened the mob. He felt that the ‘scenes of wild mourning and mass popular anger on the television were not helping in calming the fury of the mob’.
That afternoon he saw another mob looting a house in a cool and unhurried manner, without any dispute or competition among the looters. Within half-an-hour, the house had been completely ransacked and then set on fire. At about 4 pm, while the looting was going on, the siren of an approaching police vehicle was heard. This alarmed the mob who began to disperse but the vehicle just drove by and the crowd re-assembled.
A 75 year old army officer, having retired in 1958, narrated that a mob consisting mostly of some DTC bus drivers from Hari Nagar Depot accompanied by anti-social elements attacked some shops and nearby houses in ‘G’ Block of Hari Nagar. Arson followed the looting. Cars, private buses, trucks and scooters parked in that area were also burnt. The Sikh residents, assisted by Hindu neighbors of Fateh Nagar and Shiv Nagar, came out and succeeded in challenging the miscreants and driving them away.
On 3 November, at midday, the SHO of Tilak Nagar Police Station turned up in a jeep and asked the people to go indoors. Given the previous dab’s experience, the residents did not trust the police and some of them continued to maintain a vigil in the streets. Seeing this, the police officer sent some constables to the army officer’s house. They began abusing and beating his family members and even threatened one of them with a gun. They also beat this 75-year old man and confiscated his unloaded licensed revolver which he had owned since 1944. They dragged him by his hair to the jeep and took him to the Police Station, continuing to hit him with the butts of their guns. He was told to kill two Sikhs if he wanted to be freed.
At the Police Station he was locked up and again beaten to the point of bleeding and becoming unconscious. He was beaten by a Sub-inspector (whom he named) who shouted that no Sikh would be able to live in the area with his hair and beard. Among the four police personnel who had beaten him, he named two–an Sl and an ASI. The following day, the police took him to Court where a case under Section 307 of the IPC was registered against him. He was locked up in Tihar Jail along with some criminals and was able to secure his release on bail only on 12 November.
The late husband of this witness was a tea-stall owner. They are originally from Alwar. They were resettled in Trilokpuri in 1977, on a plot measuring 22.5 sq. yds., and given a loan of Rs. 2,000 to build a dwelling. Her husband and three sons (the eldest aged 28, was a railway porter, the second aged 20, drove a hired scooter-rickshaw while the third was a boy of 14), were all killed on 1 November. She said that on 1 November, some people went around asking the shops to down shutters. Those who had closed them, returned to their homes. She then said that the pradhan (Congress-l) of their block went around calling people to assemble, as a mob was coming to burn the gurdwara. The police soon came on the scene and warned them all to return to their homes and to stay indoors assuring them that they would be safe if they did so. When a mob first came the Sikhs came out and repulsed them. Three such waves were repulsed but each time the police came and told them to go home and stay there.
The fourth time the mob came in increased strength and started attacking individual homes, driving people out, beating and burning them and setting fire to their homes. The method of killing was invariably the same: a man was hit on the head, sometimes his skull broken, kerosene poured over him and set on fire. Before being burnt, some had their eyes gouged out. Sometimes, when a burning man asked for water, a man urinated on his mouth.
Several individuals, including her sister’s son tried to escape by cutting their hair. Most of them were also killed. Some had their hair forcibly cut but were nevertheless killed thereafter. She lost everything of value from her own home, including Rs. 7,000 in cash, a radio, a TV and other items. Despite being a middle-aged mother of four, she was nearly raped but was saved by providence. Nevertheless she was repeatedly humiliated and her clothes were torn off two or three times. She said that when the stricken women rushed out of their burning homes, the Gujjars (from village Chilla), bhangis and some others inquired from each other which woman they fancied and then proceeded to rape them. She heard people shouting to each other to kill every Sikh and that even if one escaped, it would be bad for them. There were twenty one males in her father-in-law’s family. All of them were killed. Her brother was beaten and left for dead but fortunately survived.
This resident of Nangloi, a venerable person with a flowing white beard who looked like a patriarch, belonged originally to Rawalpindi. He had previously lost everything during Partition. He informed the Commission that on 1 November at about 1:00 pm, many trucks and tractors with trolleys full of stones came to Nangloi from the direction of Bahadurgarh. This happened at a time when the Delhi/Haryana border was said to have been sealed. The drivers and passengers let loose a region of terror in the area. They first stoned the houses, then broke open and looted them, and finally dragged out the men and killed them. He said that 65 male Sikhs had been killed in Nangloi. Only the women, two old men and small children survived. In addition to stones, the mob carried studded rods, kerosene and someinflammable powder. He alleged that a political leader came on a motorcycle and identified the houses inhabited by Sikhs. Asked how he recognized the motorcyclist he replied that he knew him personally, having gone to him for help in solving personal problems.
FlRs had been lodged on 4 and 5 November but so far no action had been taken nor any arrests made. No stolen goods had been recovered. Asked whether any women had been molested, he replied emphatically in the negative. He also said that trains between Rohtak and Delhi had been stopped at Nangloi and Sikh passengers dragged out, beaten and murdered.
A retired Deputy Director of Animal Husbandry, Delhi State, this witness lives on a small farm on the southern outskirts of the capital. He appeared before the Commission at his own request. He grows vegetables, breeds chicken and maintains some cattle. He also renders free veterinary services to the residents of surrounding villages who frequently come to consult him regarding problems concerning their live-stock.
He related that once the news of the assassination became widely known, feelings were aroused as a matter of course. He saw groups of people moving around and going to Sikh residences in the area which were attacked and looted. Some chickens and a buffalo were stolen from his farm and some damage inflicted on the main building. He was not interested in going into details and declared that he did not want any compensation for himself. Nor had he any particular complaint against the miscreants whom, he felt, had been put up to their misdeeds. He told the Commission in as many words that his major concern was for the future. What, he asked concisely, was in store for the country when anti-social forces were enabled, or were able, to perpetrate misdeeds or to break the law with impunity. He said that this was his sole concern and that he had sought an interview with the Commission only to request it to devise measures to ensure the future of the country.
A serving army NCO made available to the Commission a copy of a letter he had sent to his superior officer. He was returning to Delhi from Amritsar on the Frontier Mail on 2 November 1984, after availing of five days’ casual leave. He states that he was witness to the stopping of trains on the approach to Delhi across the Yamuna when Sikh passengers, including some Sikh soldiers, were beaten and/or killed. After being beaten, some were thrown into the river while others were roasted alive. A few were able to save their lives after they had shaved or cut their hair. He also saw the heads and beards of dead Sikhs being shaved after which kerosene was poured over their faces and set alight so that the dead person could not be identified. After about two hours, a guard over a treasury consignment fired three shots in the air which caused the mob to scatter and the train then moved off. Upon reaching Delhi Main Station, he says that he saw many bodies of dead Sikhs. He reported-his experience to the RTO at Delhi station.
He wrote that he himself was spared because he was in uniform and that the mob told him that they were letting him off for that reason.
On 21 December three members of the Commission visited Sultanpuri and Mangolpuri. They inspected the damaged houses and saw the terrible havoc that had been wreaked. The tales of violence were broadly similar to other accounts they had heard. The new item was that they were told that the police had fired on Sikhs who had grouped in the street for self-defense. They named a police officer who allegedly fired on the group and killed two men. The marks of .303 rifle bullets on some houses were pointed out to the members. A spent bullet was found embedded in a wall. This police officer was still posted in Sultanpuri Police Station and continued to threaten and abuse Sikh residents.
The Commission was given several names of miscreants amongst whom was a kerosene depot holder, who was said to have supplied free kerosene oil. The others named were the block pradhan (Congress-I), another oil dealer and a Congress-I worker described as a special confidant of a prominent Congress-I leader. The local perpetrators of the violence continue to threaten and intimidate the remaining residents, almost all of whom at that time were women and children. Nearly all the men had gone to Rajasthan and were planning to stay there till at least after the elections. The Commission was told of the harassment of a Muslim resident of the area, who had given protection and assistance to the Sikhs for which he had been beaten up. He was threatened, even as late as on 12 December, for continuing to give them advice and assistance.
This victim, originally from Alwar, has resided in Delhi for about 25 years. In 1977, he had been moved along with others to Block 32, Trilokpuri. He operated his own cycle-rickshaw and owned a pucca house consisting of two rooms. He told the Commission that out of the nine male members in his family, seven had been killed. Only he and one brother survive. The gist of his gruesome experience is as follows:
The killings took place on the afternoon of 1 November. The usual method was to make the victims immobile by beating them. Then kerosene was poured over them and they were set on fire. He mentioned that, earlier, a police havildar, whom he named, and two constables had come to the area and when they saw a group of Sikhs gathered to defend themselves, the havildar shot and killed one of them. He named three local political figures as having been leaders of the aggressive mob. When the Sikhs grouped, the mob dispersed. But the police persuaded them to return to their respective homes. When they returned and locked themselves in, the mobs came again and meted out broadly similar treatment to each house.
They first knocked at the door asking the inmates to come out. If they did not, the door was broken open and the inmates were dragged out. If they opened the door, they got the same treatment. They were first beaten, and sometimes knocked senseless, thereafter kerosene was poured over the individual who was then set alight. In almost all cases, the neighbors did not help. Rather, they participated in the violence. He said that four types of cases had been registered: assault and robbery, rape, arson and murder. There had been no action so far; a few culprits who had been arrested were released within a few days and were still at large and threatening the people. No efforts had been made to recover stolen property and none had been returned to the owners. He also alleged that bank officials and/or civil servants had indulged in fraud or mischief while distributing the cheques covering the compensation stipulated by the Government.
This witness is a raagi (performer of kirtan) employed by the Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. He informed the Commission that, being on duty that morning at one of the gurdwaras, he left home at about 7 am on 1 November and disembarked from a bus at Punjabi Bagh to catch a connecting bus. He was seized by the crowd and roughed up. His hair was forcibly cut but he managed to escape. He returned to his house, collected his family and managed to reach safety. It took him some time to round them up. During this time he saw the local dealer in kerosene oil and a local Congress-l leader supplying free kerosene to the crowd. He saw a woman who was five months pregnant being dragged into a house. She did not emerge for a considerable time. They were taken to a relief camp on 3 November. FlRs were lodged on 4 or 5 November but no action had been taken. The same people who brutalized them continue to threaten them and joke about the Sikhs. Asked how he knew that the perpetrators were Congress men, he replied that they were all shouting slogans such as ‘Indira Gandhi Zindabad’ and ‘Sajjan Kumar Zindabad’.
During its visit to S.S. Mota Singh School Camp, Narang Colony, the Commission heard a general account from the President and Secretary of the local Cooperative Housebuilding Society. The general pattern of violence was described as follows.
A group of urchins, led and encouraged by some adults, were collected and supplied with free liquor, iron rods, kerosene or petrol. They then went on a rampage beating individuals, of whom some were burnt. Only Sikh houses were burnt–and these were identified by one of the leaders. Those who escaped and went to the police for assistance were ignored or, worse, ill-treated by the police themselves. Such police personnel were known to have instigated killings for fear of being identified by the victims. A typical police report would read somewhat as follows: ‘A small group was gathered at a point when they were faced by a large number of Sikhs with kirpans. Feeling threatened they began attacking Sikhs.’
No searches were made to recover stolen property. The police only went around the residential areas appealing to persons to surrender stolen goods. While some items were recovered in this manner, not even 10% of them had been returned to the legitimate owners.
In the Janakpuri area, fourteen gurdwaras were burnt. The building of S. S. Mota Singh School had been burnt and the metal door destroyed –and the local police station is only 250 metres away. At a nearby school, the building and eleven buses had been burnt. Attempts to get police intervention were infructuous. Several people had seen a prominent Congress-l politician’s brother-in-law advising or instigating the mobs. They also saw young men coming to the crowd on motorcycles, presumably to convey instructions or give guidance.
The residents of the area were upset with the Congressi whose representatives, they firmly believed, were responsible for the violence. They were even more upset that after the violence no representatives of either the Congress-l or representatives of any other political party came to sympathize with them or give them any relief.
Source:Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Harbans Singh.
Eyewitness Account J. Williamson
My name is J.Williamson, British national, I lived in Delhi for 19 1/2 years. My wife is Bengali I have been married 18 years. In 1984 I was living with a Sikh family in Delhi near Liberty cinema in Karol Bagh when the riots occured. I still have a copy of "Who are the guilty" to this day. I did by best to help the family I was staying with, taking subji and doodh on a Yazdi motorcycle to their relatives who could not venture out . I drove to Kashmiri Gate motor market to the family’s ball bearing shop and retrieved cash for them kept in the shop. I was stopped by police twice, once at the market and once near Filmistan cinema who were only concerned if I had a camera. On the way through Pahar Ganj, furniture shops ablaze, Connaught Place, Darhia Gunj and back via Baraf Khanna and Filmistan, all the tyre shops were on fire on Rani Jhansi Road, I saw terrible scenes of shop burning, looting, violence against Sikhs and their property that have haunted me till this day. The mobs passed the house (we had removed the name sign) and burnt a couple of shops opposite the cinema. I saw the police standing by and doing nothing at all. When on the 2nd night I could hear a huge mob coming closer I along with the Hindu neighbours were out in the road half the night but luckily they didn’t come down the street. Yes I knew fear those nights but I had become very close to the family and a close friend of the father (Sadar Jagjit Singh) and his 3 sons and his brother’s son. One day I drove a Fiat with the wives and young children for safety, to the military residential compound on the Ridge Road to a relative’s house who was in the Air Force.