Was It A ‘Communal’ Riot?
Nearly two months and a half after the holocaust, one can assert with confidence that unlike the Calcutta killing of 1946 and the killing during the partition of the country, the recent killing in Delhi was not the outcome of communal hatred. It has, indeed, brought out the worst in certain human beings after they had been instigated; but it has clearly and spontaneously brought out the finest in others.
On the evening of November 1, one of our members went to Lajpat Nagar-II to enquire about one of his Sikh friends. When he tried to enter Lajpat Nagar from Defence Colony side, he saw barricades and some young men at the entrance who did not allow our member to enter the colony. There were some burnt vehicles and shops. On persuasion, those young men allowed our member to enter. When our member moved in a lane on left side, he saw two Sikhs moving about freely, among others. He inquired from one Sikh as to what was the situation there. The Sikh replied there were some looting and burning in the main market and on the main roads in the morning and all the residents were bewildered and confused upto afternoon as they did not know from where and how the outsiders came and committed all the mischief. But since afternoon the residents, Hindus and Sikhs together, had organized themselves into joint defence committees and had decided not to allow any outsider inside the colony or do any mischief. Our member then went to the house of his Sikh friend who told him that the miscreants had tried to enter the colony but the residents had repulsed them with joint efforts. He further told our member that the Hindu young men he saw at the entrance were member of the joint defence committee and were guarding the colony.
The above instance was not a solitary one. Further investigation revealed that such joint defence committees had spontaneously sprung up in various localities. These acts of communal harmony and courage were not few, as The Times of India dated November 3, 1984 rightly reported:
‘RAY OF SUNSHINE IN DARKNESS’
“…..Hindus in colony after colony decided to form their own protection squads against the gangs of plunderers that were running amuck.
“Disgusted at the utter failure of the police and the government to protect the lives and properties of innocent Sikhs, Hindus assured their Sikh neighbours that they had nothing to fear and patrolled the areas throughout the night.
“Some of the colonies where such squads were formed were Tilak Nagar, Hari Nagar, Shiv Nagar and Janakpuri in West Delhi.
“There was an ironical situation that developed around B-2 block of Safdarjang Enclave last night when two volunteer groups from Janata Colony nearby clashed with one another mistaking one another to be hooligans. Both groups were patrolling the areas armed with lathis. Some of the men wore scooter helmets. But just as they were about to attack one another, some CRPF men on duty at the spot raised their guns to fire. It was then that the groups realised that they had same aim of protecting house and shops from desperate raiders.
“Irate residents, both Hindus and Sikhs told reporters that none of the people who attacked their houses and shops seemed to be from their own colonies. In fact they were not even of communal nature. They seemed to have only one objective – that of looting their establishments. The plunderers looked the type of people who lived in villages and resettlement colonies and were highly organized.
“In fact their operations seemed to be so well planned out that they knew exactly which shops and houses in a particular colony were owned by Sikhs and, what is more, even which vehicles. As soon as residents got over the initial shock of the attacks and realised that the police could not be relied upon at all despite all the assurances that were being broadcast both on All India Radio and Doordarshan they decided to protect Sikhs themselves.
“In the government colony of Sadiq Nagar where some petrified Sikh families had shut themselves up, Hindus went over to their houses to reassure them and offered them food. “ A Sikh who went over to a West Delhi colony to rescue his ‘niece’ was absolutely stunned when he found that a group of Hindus belonging to a particular party was already protecting her. They told him to let her stay there as she was secure.”
The report gave further description of similar activities in various other colonies.
A team of Supreme Court advocates including V.M. Tarkunde, Ram Jathamalani, Soli Sorabji, Ranjan Dwivedi and others visited five effected colonies of Trans-Yamuna on November 1 and 2. In all the localities the neighbours of the victims told the same story – that they wanted to save and protect their sikh brethrens but were helpless against the highly organized mobs having superiority in number. In Kalkaji, Hindu and Muslim neighbours helped in salvaging valuables from the burning gurudwara because they all respected it as a place of worship. Thousands of Sikhs have been saved by their Hindu friends at the risk of their being killed and their houses being set on fire by the threatening mobs. It is interesting that the protest of the poor, the much maligned jhuggi- jhopari dwellers, at the request of the Sikhs, kept with them in safe custody some of the articles which could be salvaged after the burning of sikh houses. With the renewed rumours of outbreak of violence before the election-day they asked the Sikhs to remove those articles elsewhere as they felt they were marked men and this time the goondas would attack them and everything saved would be lost.
According to replies to the questionnaires sent to neighbours in 19 different affected areas of Delhi 72 percent said that the first news of violence they received was that Sikhs were being attacked; 58 percent of them tried to contact their Sikh friends and neighbours; a similar percentage (59 percent) of the neighbours said that they tried to help the Sikhs in various ways and suffered threats in the process. 34 percent gave them shelter in their own houses, 28 percent provided food, medicine, clothes etc., 12 percent of the neighbours contacted, visited relief camps and organized peace committees, another 12 percent informed the police about the violence, 68 percent of the victims questioned said that their neighbours came to their rescue.
In several refugee camps all the survivors said that the violence was not communal but, many said, that it was instigated. To our question if he felt was a communal violence, Jeet Singh – a survivor in the Pandav Nagar Gurudwara who has lost everything and every-one excepting his little son – simply said “ No, no, not communal, a Brahmin couple has taken my little boy to live with them”. In Janakpuri camp an old man said, “ it was the local bad characters or in many cases political workers who pointed the houses and property of our community.” (Statesman, November 4, 1984). Some would say “ my mother was Hindu, or my brother has married a Hindu or in one family, we have Hindus and Sikhs. All these people had completely ruled out the riots as communal.
In Tirlokpuri – one of the worst-hit areas – it was the 5 Muslim houses in block 32 which stood as buffer between the killer and the Sikhs and it was Kadir, a Muslim who saved the life of Joginder Singh (See chapter II) at a great personal risk. In Vinod Nagar East also it was a Himachal Pardesh Hindu who dragged the taxi driver and his kids out virtually from the jaws of death. It was again a brave Hindu woman being completely alone, who hid her neighbours so cleverly and with such presence of mind that the mob which entered her house in search of Sikhs and examined the photographs of her husband and daughter to verify that she herself was not a Sikh, could not find there prey and left but came again and again to check up but failed every time. The tension she had gone through was clear on her face, but to her joy the people she had saved were all sitting around her. All such instances of neighbourly compassion made a veteran Police Officer remark , “ in true communal riot, the neighbours would have taken part. Thousands would have died. There is more looting than killing”. About looting there is an interesting observation by another Police Officer, “ Achha mal sab upar, Baki dikhane ke liye”(the good stuff goes upstairs. The rest is put on display). The connection between upar (above) and niche(down below) becomes clear from the following episode reported by the Indian Express. “ Over 300 people suspected to have looted the property have been rounded up by the General district police. The Congress-I leaders including the local M.P. Mr. Dharm Das Shastri came to the Karol Bagh Police Station to protest against the police action.” (Indian Express, November 6,1984).
Some would concede – “Yes, there were Hindu neighbours who pointed us out to the killers, some looted and burnt our houses. But they did that not because they were Hindus or Muslims and we were Sikhs. They wanted our things – radios, videos, watches or some foreign gadgets some of us had.”
One of the characteristics of the communal riots is that it might flare up suddenly on some small pretext but it never stops as suddenly as the violence in Delhi did. No one on earth can control inflamed passions of hatred once they begin to rage in human hearts or stop two or more warring communities from drawing blood; even when the intensity of the riot gets less it never completely subsides, and erupts sporadically in some corner or other for days together and takes its own time to die down. Secondly, no communal riot is one-sided. In the Delhi violence, the Sikhs handed over their kirpans and knives to the police officers both in Sultanpuri as well as Mongolpuri: as a result they were butchered – completely defenceless as they were returning home from the thana. They themselves gave their weapons, all in good faith, to their neighbours in Tirlokpuri who had visited them late on 31st October night to advise them not to take part in Prabhat Pheri next morning. All knew that was one of the essential features of observing Guru Nanak’s Birthday. Those man were slaughtered next morning with those very kirpans and knives. Whenever they have tried to defend themselves or protect their gurudwaras, they were either killed or arrested on the plea that they were indulging in communal behaviour. What were the weapons for – if not to be used for self-defence!
That the violence did not take a communal turn was not because of lack of effort to give it that colouring. All the rumours were directed to that end. Those who have been striving after a Hindu Rashtra were active. There was a letter from Hindu Suraksha Samity dated 27 October 1984 addressed to “ Dear Sardaron” which was shown to a volunteer by an important person of the Balasheb Gurudwara; it held out the threat of forcible shaving of head and beard so the Sikh might be converted into Hinduism as a retaliation for shooting down the Hindus in Punjab. There was the story narrated to us by some distinguished Sikh families in M.G. High School Camp of the eerie voice exhorting all Hindus to ‘arise awake and kill’(Utho, jago, maro) every midnight in Shivaji Park area weeks before the violence erupted.
But after the Violence, these votaries of communalism – though few in number – may claim some success. For example, in the walled city, looting and burning of shops did take place on the main roads, but the houses, the shops and families of Sikhs remained intact inside the mohallas and lanes.
However, our members noted with heavy heart that soon after the riots, heavy iron doors were immediately constructed at the entrance of every mohalla or lane, which opened at the backside of Gurudwara Sisgunj in Kinari Bazar, Chandni Chowk. The mohallas in Dariba also put up iron gates. On the other hand, the backside wall of Gurudwara Sisgunj, which uses to be only six feet high before the riots, rose to about 14 feet high soon after. No wonder, our government seems to be quite adept in promoting disharmony, disunity and disintegration.
As if all these were not enough, the highly communal Congress-I advertisements were issued against Sikhs. These might satisfy the Hindus longing for a Hindu Rashtra and capture soon Hindu votes – but they also light the flame of a true communal frenzy.