Background & Sequence Of Events
The deplorable violence unleashed upon the Sikhs in Delhi and other parts of the country from 31 October to 4 November 1984, is undoubtedly connected with the developments in the Punjab since 1981. It is, therefore, relevant to touch upon the Punjab situation, howsoever briefly.
Without attempting to pass judgement in any manner or to apportion responsibility, we have to mention the developments which resulted in the progressive deterioration of the situation and culminated first in Operation Bluestar and, later, in the dastardly assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi.
There were a series of negotiations between the Government of India and representatives of the Akali Dal. Some talks were publicised, others were held in secrecy. Unfortunately, all remained anfractuous. The lack of progress in the negotiations resulted, at each stage, in an increase in the violent activities of the extremist elements in Punjab. A series of incidents — including bank robberies, intimidation and killing of innocent citizens — occurred.
Though many of the victims were Hindus, an almost equal number were Sikhs. As individual miscreants were invariably identified as Sikhs, a smouldering resentment, though wholly unjustified, was gradually built up against an entire minority community which until then had the closest social, cultural, fraternal, familial and religious links with the majority community.
The most grievous consequence of this rift was a lamentable deterioration in the various channels of communication between the two communities. Events were distorted and muddied due to political differences and to the maneuvering of political parties to gain ascendency both inter se and over the two communities. While communications between Sikhs and Hindus were often misinterpreted and almost always misunderstood, the tension between them kept on mounting.
Finally the heinous act of the Prime Minister’s assassination was seized upon as an opportune psychological pretext by those bent on exploiting the tension for political and material gains, to trigger off a massive, deliberate, planned, onslaught on the life, property and honour of a comparatively small, but easily identifiable, minority community. The violence was particularly heavy in Delhi but occurred in other parts of the country as well.
Indications were frequently given to us of isolated acts which, in the context of the happenings after 31 October, appear to have been part of a pre-planned campaign to ‘Teach the Sikhs a lesson’. Individuals from several areas appearing before us frequently stated that Sikh houses had been marked out in advance in their areas. On occasion we were told of persons claiming to be policemen going from door-to-door in certain areas ascertaining possession of fire-arms. Others collected information concerning the ownership of property.
These straws in the wind were significant enough for the intelligence agencies to pick up and identify the dangers of a campaign, if not of violence, at least of harassment to the Sikh community at large.
As grave an occurrence as an attempt on the life of the head of Government should immediately have led the authorities to take stringent measures to prevent any threat to the life and property of the citizens and enforce peace and security. Their failure to take such measures resulted in the perpetration of unspeakable horrors in the capital city as also in other parts of the country.
Sequence Of Events
Based on statements made before the Commission, its visits to relief camps and affected areas, contemporary newspaper accounts and information gathered from other sources available to us, the sequence of events appears to have been as follows:
31 October 1984
9.15 AM – Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot by two of her security guards and rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
10.00 AM – News of the attempt first heard on the BBC.
11.00 AM – First mention by All India Radio of the attack.
2.30 PM – Evening editions of several papers in the capital carried news of the late Prime Minister having succumbed to her injuries. Crowds had begun gathering at the AIIMS. Stray incidents of Sikh by-passers being assaulted occurred.
5.00 PM – The President of the Republic arrived at Palam on his return from an official foreign visit. He drove straight to the AIIMS. "The cars in his entourage were stoned when approaching the hospital.
6.00 PM – All India Radio announced Shrimati Indira Gandhi’s death.
Thereafter, the crowds went on a rampage in several parts of Delhi, particularly in areas adjacent to the AIIMS, namely, Safdarjung Enclave, Laxmibai Nagar, INA Market and South Extension.
6.50 PM – Shri Rajiv Gandhi sworn in as Prime Minister.
By the late evening, outbreaks occurred in areas as far afield as New Friends Colony, Lajpat Nagar, Karol Bagh and New Delhi. Gurdwaras, houses, shops, factories, workshops and other property belonging to Sikhs were looted and damaged or destroyed. Sikh pedestrians and passengers (dragged out of cars or buses) were assaulted.
Evening transmissions on AIR and Doordarshan announced that orders under Sec 144 Cr.PC., prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons and the carrying of arms of all types, had been promulgated in the Union Territory of Delhi.
Late in the evening, the new Prime Minister made a broadcast to the nation appealing for calm and maintaining peace.
1 November 1984
The violence continued to spread and increased in intensity and barbarity, especially in congested areas such as Trilokpuri, Kalyanpuri, Gandhi Nagar, Sultanpuri, Mangolpuri, Janakpuri and Palam Colony.
Akashvani and Doordarshan concentrated throughout the day primarily on crowds converging upon Teen Murti House, or filing past the bier, to pay their homage to the departed leader. There were also occasional interviews with members of the public. Viewers and listeners heard the provocative slogans raised by occasional groups among the mourners – e.g., ‘khoon ka badla khoon se lenge’ – despite more than one attempt by the Prime Minister to stop them.
Several Members of Parliament, distinguished citizens and many other individuals reportedly made pleas to the police for assistance in different areas. Virtually the uniform answer received was that they had inadequate manpower to enable them to cope with the situation. Numerous casualties, preponderantly Sikh citizens, had been admitted to hospitals with varying injuries. Those killed by miscreants were estimated at about 60 in Delhi.
The Army was then reportedly called in aid of the civil power followed by ‘shoot at sight’ orders.
The then Home Secretary was reported to have said that the situation would be brought under control by the evening of Friday, 2 November. He also said that there had been only a few clashes in which a total of ten people had been killed throughout the country. Of these, five had died in Delhi – one in police firing, three in an exchange of fire between two groups while one had been stabbed.
The Lt. Governor reportedly felt that for the present there was no need to set up camps where people who were insecure could be moved. The presence of troops, according to him, would make that unnecessary.
Indefinite curfew was imposed at 6. (X) pm
2 November 1984
Reports appeared of an increase in the orgy of violence, arson, mayhem, rapine and murder; of Sikh passengers on trains being murdered; and of trains approaching Delhi being forcibly stopped by crowds in outlying areas in order to enable them to attack Sikh passengers.
The Prime Minister, along with fifteen opposition leaders, made a joint appeal to the people to end the ‘madness of violence’. That evening, the Prime Minister made a second broadcast to the nation reiterating his Government’s commitment to preserve communal peace.
Late that night the Prime Minister himself visited several of the affected areas.
As a large number of victims who had been rendered homeless fled in terror to available shelters provided by voluntary effort, no less than eighteen unofficial relief camps came into being.
3 November 1984 – The day of the cremation
The former Lt. Governor proceeded on leave and the then Home Secretary was appointed Lt. Governor in his place.
Large contingents of the armed forces and police were deployed for duties in connection with the funeral arrangements and to escort visiting foreign dignitaries.
Section 144 Cr.P.C. orders were relaxed from 9 am to 8 pm. Indefinite curfew was re-imposed in the capital, except in New Delhi district, from 8 pm.
The first signs of abatement in the intensity of mob depravity became evident. Apprehensions of renewed violence on the night of the cremation proved unfounded. There was also evidence of an increased effect of the army’s presence and more effective enforcement of the curfew.
4 November 1984
Incidents of violence continued but there was an overall abatement and the law and order situation in the capital appeared to be limping back to normal.
According to official reports, 1,809 persons had been arrested by 4 November on charges of arson, rioting and looting. A few arrests were also made for curfew violation. However, none appeared to have been arrested for murder. The Lt. Governor is reported to have said that 458 persons had been killed including seventeen who had died in police firing. Non-official estimates at the time put the figure at about a thousand killed.
Before proceeding to discuss our findings into the events following the assassination, it may be pertinent to recount a few case histories emerging from the statements of victims as given to the Commission. For obvious reasons no names are being mentioned.