Misra Commission Report :Delhi Riots 1984
DELHI CHAPTER – 2
Around 9.20 a.m., two Sikh security guards fired upon Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi at 1, Safdarjung Road, her official residence. She was hurriedly removed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences for medical attention. This information spread like wild fire. Thousands of residents of Delhi started gathering at the AIIMS. By the time the Commissioner of Police reached the AIIMS at 10.05 a.m. , the crowd was swelling up on the Aurobindo Marg outside AIIMS and the South District Police under the Deputy Commissioner of Police had become busy making arrangements to keep the AIIMS Complex clear and free. By 1 p.m. the crowd at the AIIMS had swelled up to well above 30,000. The exact condition of Smt. Gandhi was not being disclosed to the mob which was gradually becoming impatient. By the afternoon the newspapers, however, started publicising that Smt. Gandhi had succumbed to her injuries and doctors had failed to resuscitate her to life. CJC asked for production of certain newspapers which the Commission directed to be called for. References to some of them are made here. The Indian Express Editor has informed the Commission in answer to an interrogatory suggested by CJC :
The second Special Supplement was issued around 1 or 1.15 p.m. under the banner heading : Mrs. Gandhi assassinated.
The Hindustan Times brought about a Special Supplement with the headline Indira Gandhi is dead.
The Statesman in answer to the interrogatory has replied :
Second edition at about 1.45 p.m. — Mrs. Gandhi was no more. It is feared.
A Special edition was brought out at about 3.15 p.m. announcing of Smt. Gandhi’s assassination.
Between 2 and 3 in the afternoon sporadic incidents started taking place. Initially these were confined to shouting of slogans against the Sikhs calling them as traitors, pulling out Sikh passengers from buses and manhandling them. Additional Commissioner of Police Jatav says, by 2.30 p.m. he received information of trouble in South Delhi of pelting of stones and assault on Sikhs.
Police Commissioner Tandon has stated that around 12.30 p.m. he had been called to the Prime Minister’s residence by M/s Fotedar and V.S. Tripathi. There the Lt. Governor was also present. He was advised to look after the security and to keep the roads around the Prime Minister’s residence clear. At that point of time it was felt that the body of the Prime Minister would be brought from the AIIMS to her residence. Around 4 p.m. Police Commissioner Tandon was told that there would be delay in release of the body. Shri Rajiv Gandhi was then away in West Bengal and appears to have returned to Delhi in the later half of the afternoon. By about 5.30 p.m. the President who was away from India returned and straight drove to the AIIMS from Palam. The Presidential cavalcade appears to have been attacked by some persons out of the angry mob still waiting at the AIIMS and some of the vehicles were damaged by throw of stones. Around that time trouble started in Jorbagh and INA Market areas. Vehicles of Sikhs started being stopped and their turbans were removed and set on fire. By the evening time mobs collected at several places had started stopping transport vehicles as also scooters, motor-cycles and cars either driven by Sikhs or in which Sikhs were found travelling. The initial shout of condemnation of Sikhs began to take a serious turn. Some of the mobs were only of hoodlums, others were groups of people of different ages. By the evening from different areas several reports of taxis and transport vehicles of Sikhs being set on fire started pouring in.
It is a fact that the Press Trust of India had sent the following message at 10.54 hours on that day :
Among the assailants were two Sikhs and one clean shaven Sikh , unofficial reports said.
When in the evening news of her death was published, the fact that assailants were Sikh guards was stated. During the night the crowds increased and started moving from place to place. The houses owned/occupied by Sikhs were identified. Free and open threats were administered to members of that community wherever they were found. Several incidents of brutal physical assault took place.
Soon after the occurrence in the morning the Home Secretary had issued wireless messages to all the States, including the Delhi Administration , alerting them against apprehended trouble. On the basis of such alert, Additional Commissioner of Police, Shri R.K. Ohri ¸had sent out wireless messages to all Distt.Deputy Commissioners of Police to the following effect :
You are advised to intensify patrolling and strengthen police presence in communally sensitive areas, especially near Gurudwaras, Temples, Mosques, etc. and keep a sharp look out for mischief mongers. Special attention may also be paid to the safety of vital installations. Necessary steps may be taken to curb any rumour -mongering and effective action taken against those spreading rumours. Similarly, watch may be kept on known bad characters and goondas. All Distt. DCPs may also maintain in reserve for meeting any unforeseen situation.
The then Home Secretary, Shri M .M .K. Wali has told the Commission that between 11 and 11.30 a.m. of that day he had talked to the Lt. Governor as also the Commissioner of Police to ensure that the situation should be watched with great care and caution. It appears from his evidence that the Home Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister were away from Delhi at that time. These people returned to the capital between 3 and 3.30 p.m. This statement of the then Home Secretary has been supported by Lt. Governor Gavai.
Police Commissioner Tandon has stated that in his opinion prohibitory orders under section 144, Cr. P.C. were adequate to meet the situation as it prevailed on October 31, 1984, and he, therefore, did not take any other action excepting promulgation of prohibitory orders and asking for deployment of the police force to enforce it. There were as many as 119 incidents on October 31, 1984 , to which reference has been made before the Commission. These happened in different parts of Delhi and were of the nature and pattern already indicated. Several affidavits filed before the Commission refer to these incidents. For instance, a reference to the affidavits of Smt. Ravinder Kaur (no. 2778) goes to show that her husband who was driving truck No. 755 was killed in Shahdara area during the night of October 31, 1984. The death certificate appended to the affidavit shows that the killing took place near a petrol pump in Bhajanpura area in the early morning hours of November 1, 1984. This clearly indicates that killing of people had started during the night of October 31, 1984, as found by the Commission.
From the evidence produced it appears that 13 Gurudwaras were attacked on 31st October , being Shri Guru Singh Sabha Gurudwara at Naraina, the Gurudwara at Sagarpur, Shri Guru Singh Sabha Gurudwara at Lajpat Nagar, the Gurudwara at Sheikh Sarai, the Gurudwara at Defence Colony, the Gurudwara at Gandhi Nagar, Kalgidhar Singh Sabha Gurudwara at R.K.Puram, Shri Guru Singh Sabha Gurudwara at R.K.Puram, Shri Guru Singh Sabha Gurudwara at Sarojini Nagar, Shri Guru Singh Sabha Gurudwara at Lodhi Colony, Baba Budha Singh Gurudwara at Prem Nagar and Gurudwara Sikh Sangat at Green Park Extension, South Delhi. The material on record shows that attack on these Gurudwaras started by sunset time and continued till about 11 p.m.
These incidents of October 31, 1984 appear to have been taken by way of involuntary reaction of a deep sense of grief, anguish and hatred for the assassins. There can be no scope to contend, and much less to accept, that at the initial stage on October 31, 1984, the violence that took place was organised. October 31, 1984, began with a usual autumn morning and no one had any reason to apprehend that such an ugly and unfortunate incident would take place. The killing came as a bolt from the blue and took everyone unawares. Smt. Gandhi’s body had been received at the AIIMS and the fact that she was dead had not been disclosed. Though some people knew that she was dead, most of the population living in different areas has not come to know of the fact of death till evening. It is in such a background that the initial incidents started taking place. These, therefore, appear to the Commission to be spontaneous reaction of the people to the then prevailing situation at the commencement but as the police did not attend to the situation and failed to make a proper assessment of what was brewing, what began as an innocent reaction to Smt. Gandhi’s assassination developed into one of the darkest tragedies in independent India’s history.
In the Evening News of the Hindustan Times of the 31st , the situation of that morning was thus described :
DELHI PEOPLE DAZED
People in the capital heard in shocked disbelief news of the attempt on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s life here this morning.
People from all walks of life were dazed on hearing that Mrs. Gandhi had been shot at and rushed to AIIMS for surgery.
In the November 1, 1984, issue of the Indian Express the situation on 31st October was reported thus
GLOOM DESCENDS ON CAPITAL
A pall of gloom descended on the capital as news about the shots fired at Indira Gandhi spread throughout the city. ,
At the offices of the Delhi Pradesh Congress (I) Committee on Kali Bari Marg and the Delhi Pradesh Youth Congress (I) office on the Talkatora Road downcast workers sat on the lawns. The All India Congress (I) Committee office on Akbar Road was placed under close guard and all visitors were being screened closely.
On Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, where most newspaper offices are located , one could see people wiping tears on reading this. Simultaneously the capital was overtaken with grief.
Many, however, still could not believe this. ‘ How is it possible ?’ asked an elderly lady, ‘only yesterday Indira Gandhi was in Orissa , I saw her on the television addressing the jawans.’
But as the sun set and darkness descended on the city, a pall of gloom covered the city and perhaps the country completely. People now began to believe that Indira Gandhi was dead.
The same newspaper carried the following news dated 31-10-1984 :
The Government late on Wednesday night alerted the Army and called out the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force as the local police failed to control the widespread rioting and arson in different parts of the capital following the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
The main targets of the rioting mobs were Sikhs, their property, vehicles and places of worship. Curfew was imposed in Agartala, Jammu and Jabalpur while the Army was called out in Agartala and Calcutta as angry crowds went on the rampage in several parts of the country protesting against Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Incidents of violence were reported from parts of Tripura, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttar Pardesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh, reports P.T.I.
At least 30 Sikhs were admitted to various hospitals in the city (Delhi). Quite a few have been admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences alone till 10 p.m. on Wednesday (31st October).
Angry mobs went about setting fire to property belonging to Sikhs, without any let or hindrance from the police. They set alight two Gurudwaras in South Delhi, the premises of four transport companies and two timber stores in the walled city.
At least 50 vehicles including trucks, cars, buses, scooters , rickshaws- scooters and motor-cycles were set on fire in different parts of the city. The maximum damage to vehicles was done in Safdarjung airport area, Laxmibai Nagar and Vinay Nagar area.
Between 6 and 10 p.m. between the Prime Minister’s house on Safdarjung Road and AIIMS , a vehicle was seen burning every 50 yards. The police had to delay taking the body from the hospital because of the burnt out vehicles enroute 1, Safdarjung Road. Around 10.30 p.m. two trucks were ablaze at the Ring Road Crossing near Kamal Cinema. ‘ We cannot deal with the situation of this nature’ said Mr. Gautam Kaul, Addl. Commissioner of Police, New Delhi outside the AIIMS . . . . . . . . A mail van driven by a Sikh was also burnt near Jorbagh. Safdarjung Airport crossing sometime around 5 p.m. Its burnt out shell was hurriedly removed to enable the passage of the guncarriage carrying Indira Gandhi’s body.
The Delhi fire department was hard put to combat the spurt of fires in the city. A fire spokesman late in the evening (of the 31st) said that they were incapable of handling the situation in the city and perforce had to let fire rage in the capital.
Mobs of youngmen armed with steel rods and lathis stopped vehicles all over the city bragging that they had set many vehicles and places of worships on fire.
Impotent policemen stood at odd corners looking on helplessly as mobs went amuck in the walled city setting timber markets and trucks on fire. Shops belonging to Sikhs were indiscriminately looted . . . . .
This is a long extract of the news item from the Indian Express dated November 1, 1984. Indisputably the contents were printed in course of the night of the 1st October and this newspaper was available for sale/distribution by early morning of November 1, 1984. CJC called for copies of this newspaper from 1-11-8 to 7-11-84 and upon orders by the Commission, the management produced them along with their letter dated 18-11-1985.
The news item was a contemporaneous publication and chances of motivated reporting would not be there. CJC with the obvious intention of relying on the news coverage called for these issues of the paper. The news shows in clearest terms that rioting in the proper sense has started in a very big way in several parts of the city on the 31st evening and except for killing which came into the process from 1-11-1984, every other form of attack on Sikhs had begun. The massive scale on which the operation had started so soon after the fact of death was circulated is clearly indicative of the fact that it was the spontaneous reaction of the people at large. The short span of time that intervened would not have permitted scope for any organising to be done. The gloom that had spread and affected the Congress-men in particular would not have permitted any such organisation to be handled. The reaction appears to have come as a flutter and sparked everywhere in a similar pattern. It was not confined to States where Congress (I) was in power. West Bengal and Tripura where C.P. (M) led governments were in office got affected too. The police was impotent from the very beginning has been clearly indicated. Their leadership was full of doubts about their capacity is also apparent. These facts have to be kept in view for drawing of appropriate conclusions at relevant places.
On the previous day, apart from proclaiming prohibitory order under S.144, Cr. P. C. and directing the police to be on the alert and take such steps to meet the situation as may be necessary, no effective steps had been taken in the various localities where trouble had either started or was brewing or was likely to happen. The inaction of the police at the early stage gave a general impression that it was not going to interfere with the mob activities. In the early morning of November 1, 1984, mobs were found on the streets prepared to undertake looting, arson, assault and even kill. The Commission has already indicated that on October 31, 1984, itself operation had been undertaken to identify houses owned or occupied by Sikhs. The mobs that operated on November 1, 1984, were mostly from the lower strata of society coming from the jhuggis and the outlying villages. There were, however, several instances where people of the middle class as also some belonging to the richer section of the society did participate and even led the mobs. In many of the affidavits of the victims where the method and modality adopted by the mobs have been described, it has been clearly stated that there was a difference in the pattern of the operations carried in the morning and later in the day. In the morning hours crowds moved out and ordinarily threatened or terrorised the Sikh population in different areas, did small scale looting and even caused assaults. When these illegal activities were carried on by the mobs in certain areas there was resistance from the side of the Sikhs, particularly were they were of a sizeable number. The situation in many areas, therefore, became tense and provocative. In some areas while confrontation of this type proceeded and members of the Sikh community were beaten up, there had been casual retaliation. Assault on non-Sikh rioters inflicted by way of exercise of the right of self-defence was made an issue and was utilised to provoke the mobs against the Sikhs. From early morning a rumour was spread throughout Delhi to the effect that the Sikhs had poisoned the drinking water of Delhi. Obviously this had been done by the miscreants to create further bias and prejudice against the Sikhs and create apathy in the minds of the people against Sikhs. From that morning the miscreants also started spreading another rumour that every train which came from Punjab side carried dozens of dead bodies of non-Sikhs. This was an out and out lie but was intended to create the necessary panic and bring about the proper mood in the people constituting the mobs to react against the Sikhs. Rumour is one of the cheapest tools in the hands of the trouble makers either to boost or demoralise and the gangsters had resorted to such methods.
Later in the day on November 1, 1984, the riotous mobs followed almost a uniform pattern everywhere. They came well armed with iron rods, crow-bars, kerosene in containers, inflammable powder, firearms, apart from lathis and other dangerous weapons. In some areas the kerosene stockists were made to supply kerosene. The afternoon operations became dreadful; the houses occupied by Sikhs were initially looted, the left over material which was either not considered useful for looting or was difficult to be removed was set on fire. Ordinarily, every male Sikh found in the house or in the locality was beaten to death. Wherever the gates of the compounds were closed or the doors were locked from within, with iron rods and crow-bars as also by use of force these were broken open. The riotous crowd followed the pattern of burning all the Sikhs who were either killed or were in the process of dying as a result of fatal assault and injuries. This obviously was so done to leave no trace and to make sure that no one that had been injured survived. The Commission has come across instances where ladies who ran to the rescue of their husbands or their close male relations were also brutally assaulted and in some cases were even thrown into the fire in which the men-folk were already being burnt.
November 1, 1984, appears to have been the worst day during the riots.
When the incidents happened in the early part of the day within a few kilometer from the Police Headquarters and in areas close to the administrative establishments, these incidents had not impressed the machinery that the situation had gone out of control. The Lt. Governor came to Teenmurti Bhavan around 6.35 a.m. where the dead body of the late prime Minister was lying in state. After making floral offering he looked for the Police Commissioner and when they met, he advised that the Police Commissioner instead of hanging around Teenmurti Bhavan should move out as there was apprehension of trouble, When the Lt. Governor suggested that the Army could be called immediately, the Commissioner of Police was of the view that he should first take a round, form his own opinion and then only on the basis of his assessment the decision for calling in the Army should be taken. Around 10 a.m. the Police Commissioner informed the Lt. Governor on telephone that the situation was going from bad to worst and that Army help should be asked for. When the Lt. Governor contacted the GOC, Delhi Area, according to the Lt. Governor the GOC replied that he had already been alerted but before the Army could move in he wanted a meeting with the Lt. Governor. The meeting took place around 1 p.m. The GOC was of the view that the number of troops available with him could operate only in two contiguous areas. The Army was ultimately asked to move into South and Central Delhi and it appears that it had become operational by the evening. Police Commissioner Tandon in his statement has also accepted the position that around 10 am after returning to the Police Headquarters he was of the view that the situation had become worse in several parts of the city. Addl. Commissioner Jatav has stated that until the evening of November 1 he had no occasion to feel that the situation was going out of control.
There was no proper assessment by the police of the grave situation in the city. The Commission is satisfied from the material placed on record that on November 1, the law and order situation in Delhi had been left in the hands of the riotous mobs and the police, as will be presently discussed, failed to discharge its duty of maintaining law and order. It is during that night that one of the greatest tragedies of the riot period took place in the Trilokpuri area. Trilokpuri is part of Kalyanpuri Police Station. Block 32 of Trilokpuri was being inhabited by Labana Sikhs mostly belonging to the poorer section of society. In the earlier part of the day on November 1, an attempt was made to set the Gurudwara in Block 32 on fire but this attempt had been repelled by the local Sikh population. In the stone throwing that followed, a local mosque was somewhat damaged. In the afternoon the Station House Officer alongwith a police party had visited the area but made no proper appraisement of the situation nor did he attempt to normalise the situation by easing the tension. One Head Constable with two other police constables had been given duty from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. that day but they withdrew from the area by 3 p.m. Trilokpuri had no light that night. Under the cover of darkness the riotous mob fell upon the Sikh community and almost wiped out everyone. 95 dead bodies were recovered from the locality. The few that survived were those who had run away under the cover of darkness and had taken shelter in huts of farm labourers from Bihar after shaving off their hair and beards.
On November 1, 1984, in several other areas of the city hundreds of crimes were perpetrated by riotous mobs. Reference to 399 incidents of various categories has been made in the affidavits and evidence placed before the Commission. As already pointed out, this was the worst day during the period of rioting. Three fourths of the persons killed seem to have perished on this day alone in the hands of the rioters. There is clear evidence that a common pattern had been followed by big crowds. Curfew had been clamped in the afternoon. This power was available to be exercised by the Commissioner of Police. He stated that initially he did not think curfew to be necessary but later he instructed the Deputy Commissioners of Police to impose curfew when on their own assessment they were satisfied that the situation warranted it. There is clear material on record by way of admission of senior police officers in their evidence that curfew was not effective in as much as it could not be strictly enforced. Notwithstanding imposition of curfew, in the absence of any strict enforcement the crowds moved and operated as freely as before when there was no curfew.
Throughout the night of November 1, 1984 the riotous mobs carried on their operations. The Army had not become very effective at the initial stages as it required magisterial orders for resorting to firing ; in the absence of proper guidance by officers used to the localities it had operational inconvenience; the mob taking advantage of the night and darkness in several areas used to keep away from the main roads and wider lanes as and when Army vehicles approached and once the vehicles moved away they collected to carry on their operations again.
In the evening the Prime Minister and a number of opposition leaders made a joint appeal to the people for restoration of sanity and their appeal, inter alia stated :
Nation’s unity and integrity must be safeguarded at all costs and this is the foremost responsibility of every citizen. To subject Sikhs as a whole to violence and indignity for what a few misguided persons have done, however heinous their crime, is most irrational and unbecoming of our heritage of tolerance, This madness must stop. From the very beginning Sikhs have been an inseparable part of India and the Sikh community has played a glorious role in the freedom struggle and in the building up of independent India .
As already noticed, towards the evening of November 1 the Army had moved into two Districts, namely, Central and South. One full Brigade reached Delhi at 6 a.m. on November 2, 1984, another at 8 a.m. and third one at 9 a.m., the fourth Brigade came at 1.15 p.m. and the fifth around 2.30 p.m. These five Brigades had come from Meerut, Roorkee, Shahjahanpur, Alwar and Punjab respectively, and each Brigade had at least 3,000 soldiers. By evening of November 2, 1984, the Army had moved into almost every area of Delhi. The presence of Army and regular patrolling made it difficult for the riotous mobs to freely operate but until evening there had been a lot of criminal activity carried on in almost every part of Delhi. The initial difficulty of lack of Magistrates was removed by providing more Magistrates. Instructions were issued to the Army to fire in self-defence or when mob committing arson, looting or resorting to killing was noticed. With the arrival of adequate force and the army moving about in almost every area, the situation showed signs of improvement. In the later part of the day on November 2, 1984, a group of Members of Parliament had met the Prime Minister at his residence. Lt. Governor Gavai also participated in the meeting. Notwithstanding the availability of the Army and round the clock movement of columns of it in affected areas, many incidents occurred during the day.
The Prime Minister described the communal frenzy sweeping the country following the assassination as disgraceful. In an unscheduled brief broadcast to the nation he said :
While hundreds of millions of Indians are mourning the tragic loss of their beloved leader , some people are casting a slur on her memory by indulging in acts of hatred and violence. Disgraceful incidents of arson, loot and murder have taken place. This must stop forthwith. The Government will ensure the safety of life and property of every citizen irrespective of his caste, creed or religion.
India Gandhi gave her life so that a united India should live and prosper. Anything that creates a division between brother and brother comes in the way of national unity. This violence is only helping the subversive forces to achieve their ends. Communal madness will destroy us. It will destroy everything that India stands for. As Prime Minister of India, I cannot and will not allow this. Tomorrow the mortal remains of Indira Gandhi will be consigned to sacred flames. She had said, ‘Do not shed blood. Shed hatred’ Let this guide us.
The Prime Minister toured some of the affected areas between 1 a.m and 4.30 a.m. to get a first hand account of the situation in the capital.
From the evening of November 1, shifting of riot victims to Relief Camps had started in a small scale. On the November 2 that operation had been continued. By November 3, several Relief Camps had been set up and with the assistance of the Army, Police and the voluntary organisations as also the civil population the rescuing of riot victims continued and thousands of people from different areas came to life in different Relief Camps. With the Army units moving about, the morale of the victims started showing signs of improvement and some of the Sikhs who had run away from their houses for life started coming back to their own houses where they found all the property had been looted or removed and the houses had been set on fire. Most of the people lived in Camps for another 5-6 days and then started returning. From certain areas like Trilokpuri where mass killings had taken place the widows were not prepared to return to those areas and preferred to live in Relief Camps. Their habitation and living became a problem. By the evening of November 3, 1984 there was further improvement in the situation.