GOVERNMENT ORGANISED CARNAGE [Sarkari Qatl-e-Aam]
(A FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT)
A group of artists in Lucknow are taking out a procession of peace marchers for communal harmony. One of the organisers of the march has been worrying since yesterday. His anxiety is to ensure that AIR and Doordarshan give good coverage to the procession. The organisers are personally very perturbed over the events of the past few days. The first blood was drawn by Sikhs they say. Who asked them to distribute sweets?
Despite such thoughts, they are marching for peace and communal harmony.
Sikhs distributed sweets at Mrs. Gandhi’s killing. I have been hearing such talk and am looking for an eye witness to vouch for such incidents. I mention this to Kunwar Narayan. He knows somebody who saw Sikh celebrating and is expected to come to his house today.
Luckily, I do not have to wait long for him. We are introduced. I start asking him questions. The secret is soon out. He is an eye-witness who heard the story from his uncle. I met many such eye-witnesses.
This was the rumour that even the most neutral and thinking people believed. This was the rumour that led the mobs to burn Sikh infants alive.
Prof. Satyamurti was to attend a rehearsal of a play directed by him. But the news of Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination had already come. So, to spare the actors the inconvenience of coming out he postponed the rehearsal to November 4. Prof. Satyamurti must have intuitively known about the violence that followed.
Rakesh Verma, a singing artists, employed in the Life insurance company (LIC) whose office is on Kanpur’s Mall Road told me that at 2.30 p.m. he saw a group of people pounce on a Sikh, about to alight his two-wheeler. The middle aged Sikh was badly beaten up right under the gaze of two armed cops. Meanwhile, a police vehicle reached the spot and a gun-wielding cop ran towards the mob. He rescued the Sikh and sent him home alongwith an armed policeman.
There were three more Sikhs in the LIC office. Some people suggested that they cut their hair but somebody requested the police to come and the three were escorted back home. Perhaps, they survived. By the time the offices closed, Mr. Verma saw a mob of 150-200 goodness and political workers passing through the market, raising slogans.
The morning air is thick with rumours. Prof. Satyamurti’s colleagues at the college, his driver and a domestic help, all have different stories to tell. But all the tales focus on how the Sikhs have been murdering people at various places.
At 10 a.m. I come out to get a packet of cigarettes. There is an eerie silence as I get out of the house. But soon the Silence is broken. At the street corner is a group of people, professional hangers-on. The signboard of an electric goods shop has been smashed but the locks are still intact. On the platform outside the shop, two cops are relaxing. Bang opposite them is the shop of a Sikh photographer. The windows and door of that shop have been smashed.
Just then, a group of young men passes by each of them holding boxes of new shoes, looted from a shop. The young men are excited about the loot.
One of the cops outside the electric goods shop gets ‘ tough’ and, wielding his stick at one guy, tells him to surrender the shoes. The young man places two pairs before the cop. The cop tries them both but neither fits his feet. He sends him away, abusing him light-heartedly and yells at another to show him what he has got.
Of course, these young men and the cops are mourning the death of Mrs. Gandhi.
I turn to the left of the street. There is no cigarette shop there but cigarette packets are available at a premium. At double the normal price. I decide to go to Vijay’s house for tea. On the way, another brush with violence. A bonfire right in the middle of the road. Closely, a mob is trying to break through an iron gate. Vijay’s wife says that a wood godown had been set afire by the mob. The neighbours doused the fire, not to save the godown but their own shops. Outsides, I see the mob, which was earlier trying to break into the godown, move towards the other side and jump inside from a half broken wall. One man walks out with a saw and wood cutting blade. Another comes out with a couple of small woodlogs. The logs are too heavy to carry. So, he drops them, drags them towards his bicycle, ties them up to the back seat and cycles away with the ease of a shopper.
The rest of the crowd is busy trying to make sure that nothing remains unbent in what they have dragged out of the godown to make a bon-fire in the middle of the road.
Barely 150 yards away from the spot is a police post. Not one, but two. There are several cops there but absolutely relaxed.
Bang opposite the police post is the office of AIR. Reporters inside are extremely busy, trying to contact the official spokesman about the situation in the city. Besides, they know their first responsibility. To carry government announcements in their bulletins in this hour of national crisis following Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. The administration does not need them. Not yet. Not until after the killers have had their fill of violence.
At 2 p.m. I leave Vijay’s house and see the fire lit in the morning. The flames are going higher and higher. The fire died thirty hours later. On its own.
Meanwhile, a police vehicle passes by and announces the imposition of curfew in the city. Nobody takes a second look at a man walking out of the godown with his loot.
I return home. See another fire. The cops are still relaxing outside the electric goods shop. The shop is intact but a car belonging to the shop-owner has been dragged out of the garage and set aflame.
Some others are telling the crowd, tonight we must burn the photographer’s shop.
Doordarshan comers are still focused on Teen Murti House. Delhi is burning. Kanpur is burning but that is not news for Doordarshan. News, as it sees, is all in teen Murti house.
The neighbourhood of Prof. Satyamurti’s house is full of talk , venomous talk against the Sikhs. Each one of them is guilty. Each one of them is happy at the assassination. A boy comes to his house and says he saw Sikhs distributing sweets. Did you see it? I ask. Everybody has seen it, the boy answers.
Don’t tell me about everybody, tell me, If you have seen it, I persist.
No, but a man I know told me so, replies the boy.
At night I go to the terrace. The whole city seems aflame. I can barely see the sky.
The street is noisy early morning. I arm on the terrace. The same young men, who were agitated about Sikhs celebrating the killing of Mrs. Gandhi the previous day, are playing cricket. The sun is getting high. There is curfew in the city and there are reports of the army having come to control the situation.
The violence continues despite the army. People are standing in groups everywhere. The photographer’s shop is being looted merrily. A policeman on the scene is telling the crowd not indulge in violence.
You return us our Indira Gandhi, we will stop looting the shop, comes a voice from the crowd. The cop is silenced by the reply and goes back to where he was sitting. After a while, the crowd of young men leaves the place, wailing with joy. Some mourning this.
Vegetables are beautifully arranged in a basket by a seller. One guy has opened his shop just enough for cigarettes and tobacco to change hands with those desperate for them. He is still giving Mainpuri Tobacco at the regular price, one rupee, that is. Down the road in a square, parts of a nearby building set aflame are burning. The building’s ground floor had a sweets shop belonging to a Sikh. The shop is suitably emptied before being burnt down. The crowd is mourning Mrs. Gandhi’s killing.
Further on, there is a bigger and more festive crowd on the wide road.
Full of people. The door of the liquor shop has been smashed and bottles are now available outside the shop. Beer, Rum all for a flat price of eight rupees. You can even drink standing right there. Nobody will check you.
Suddenly, there is a commotion in the crowd which has been diligently stoning a house. We all step back. But this is the softest part of the violence.
I should have not have built such a long story around what I wanted to say. Perhaps, what I want to describe is beyond the boundaries of language. Any language. Let me say it straight and simple. Have you ever seen a man burning alive?
The Sikh has been battered. He looks like moving pulp lying on the ground. Soaked in blood. He is not crying. He is not writhing. Just his hands are trying to hold on to the something in the air. The crowd moves back, yelling with joy. It leaves him alone for a while. Two young men have balloons filled with petrol. They throw the balloons on another Sikh. The balloons burst after hitting the Sikh’s head. Then, the crowd throws a match. The man slips as he tries to run, the road having turned into thin ice under his feet. Now he is burning alive.
In Kanpur, this skilled, fool-proof way of burning Sikhs was uniformly employed.
In the evening, journalists from a local newspaper come. They are very upset with the Sikh community. They have brought a true story. The Sikh who was burnt had shot at the crowd from the terrace of his house. He was at fault. The crowd which converged on his house to loot and burn was right.
In the street of mourners, a voice from the group playing cricket, yells, switch on the TV.
I hear that the mob put a burning chemical in the rectum of buffaloes belonging to a Sikh milk-seller. He lived a street behind us. Isn’t there a limit to mourning!
Another incident. There was shooting from inside a Gurudwara. So, it was burnt. But, what was crowd doing outside the Gurudwara?
The night is even more horrific. A group of the army walked through the street. It showed its presence for six minutes. There is total silence in the street. It will stay silent for the next six hours. At this hour, people have even stopped peeping from their windows and balconies.
Until late in the night I get no sleep. When it comes, it brings along horrible images. Past midnight, I hear a cry. The cry becomes louder. Lots of people are gathered. They are appealing to us to stay awake. jagte raho, jagte raho.
This is a strange cry. Over the loud-speaker. Sikhs are being murdered all around. To be a Sikh and out on the street is an invitation to death. And here is a public announcement system blaring messages. Sikhs have attacked the Kaka Dev Bus Stop. Everybody, reach Gita Nagar. Another voice from Gita Nagar, again over the mike. I cannot contact Sapera; you tell me what to do. The Kaka Dev voice, tell everybody to go to their terraces with stones and bricks.
The best part of these midnight announcements is that a police patrol vehicle is right in Kaka Dev, also listening to the them. Of course, the administration had no clue to the horrific happenings. The District Magistrate of Kanpur, Brijendra Yadav, mute witness to the killings and arson, is the same man under whose administration in Muradabad, terrible communal riots had taken place.
Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi’s grand-children try to contact the police all day on November 2, but nobody picks up the phone.
The air has changed somewhat. The police and army have marched through the city.
The mourners want to have their fill of cricket until the next march. A catch brings loud cheer from the crowd. Today is the fourth day they are mourning Mrs. Gandhi’s killing.
The killing and arson have stopped and the police has been raiding some houses to recover the loot.
The woman who washes dishes at Prof. Satyamurti’s house has come.
She is very agitated. Kare koi, bhare koi. Police sub ko pareshan kare hai (somebody commits a crime and somebody else has to pay for it; the police are harassing us all) arre you tell me, if you do not have enough food in your house, how can you wear shoes that cost 200 rupees? There is no electric connection in the house and they have a TV and fringe already, she is talking about her neighbours.
This is another unwritten rule in our country. A man cannot wear good shoes until he has good clothes and a good house.
The cops will come and take away the fringe and TV that her neighbours have got.
Those who have got the TV and fringe are selling both for 500 rupees each, she informs us.
Sitting indoors, I am bored. Prof. Satyamurti and I decide to go out. His wife tells him not to but he doesn’t listen to her.
The news we get today is interesting. A sackful of liquor bottles sold for just a hundred rupees but, even more interesting is the news that the policemen who had gone with food packets for three rupees each to the Cantonment relief camp came back with the packets. The reason. The people in the camp did not have any money to buy food with.
According to official estimates, 50 Sikhs were killed in the violence and goods and property worth 50 lakh rupees looted. Another estimate puts the monetary loss at four crore rupees.
At a deserted spot behind a wall, a group of people is trying to bury some ‘shining’ thing.
A group of under-nutritioned men in khaki, the Home Guard men, are passing that way. Their heads are bent. They can see nothing, not us, not the crowd that is burying ‘something’.