2nd November 1984
I am editing my film. My assistant keenly looking over my shoulder. Gentle boy, who was shy and spoke so softly. Sensitive and very diligent and caring. Another assistant walks in. Whispers in the boy’s ears, and the boy looks a little startled and walks out. Unusual, as he would have normally asked for permission to go, or at least excuse himself. 20 minutes later I walk out to get some fresh air. The editing room was in Pali Hill in what used to be Nasir Hussain’s bungalow. Raj was sitting on a parapet with a completely blank look on his face. The other assistant staring at me helplessly.
Raj has been told that most of his extended family had just died. Killed in the riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Not just killed, the women dragged out and forced to watch the men folk being burned alive, and then the women and children slaughtered. Raj just sat there. Non comprehending. There was no words of solace or comfort you could give. As my other assistant described the events, I just sat their disbelieving,
For how does a city descend into savagery ? A city I was brought up in – my own Sikh friends hiding with their families in safe houses to save themselves from the mad slaughter frenzy that was spreading so fast through the city. And the police and the government stood by either helplessly or completely complicit in the gruesome killing. I have to keep reminding myself this was 1984 – not a moment in bygone history.
So as we remember 25 years since Indira Gandhi – we must remember the aftermath and ask – how is it that civilization reveals such an ugly side so quickly ? Are we basically savages living behind a veneer of controlled social behavior ? Is this not the same savagery that we descended into in Gujarat ?
I read today the following account by a very respected journalist called Rahul Bedi and the memories flooded back. Please brace yourself before reading it, and if any of you have memories of that event, please write in. It’s important we remember …..
It was a sight I will never forget in my life. Two alleyways in Trilokpuri, Block-32, littered with bodies, body parts, hair and blood.
It was around 7 p.m. Nov 1, 1984, and there was no light. The only illumination was from the headlights of my car. Nobody was alive and there was absolutely no sound. It was like a bizarre science fiction movie.
It was impossible for us – Joseph Maliakan and myself of the Indian Express and Alok Tomar of Jansatta – to keep our feet on the ground without stepping on something. We literally had to tiptoe through this massacre, through this carnage in east Delhi.
When we walked down the narrow 100-metre-long street, we found a young woman, a polio victim, sitting at the entrance of her house. She was just sitting there silently and all around her, in front of her, behind her, beside her on either side, there were piles of bodies.
Her entire family was butchered but she was completely emotionless. She had no tears, she had no hysteria, she was just silent.
We then heard a sound of an infant who must have been a few weeks old. We handed him to the police.
We also saw a young Sikh, who had been stabbed the previous day, lying underneath a body. He had managed to tie his turban around his stomach, but by then had bled for at least 24 hours. We shifted him to the police van standing nearby. He later died.
We were there for about one or two hours and it was horrendous. It was just like some place where you slaughter animals except in this case they slaughtered the Sikhs – 320 of them in these two very very narrow lanes.
There was hair lying all over the place, there was blood, there were fingers, arms, legs and heads.
These alleyways were populated by poor Scheduled Caste Sikh families whose basic trade was to weave beds and chairs.
Earlier in the day, when we tried to come here, we were chased away by the crowd which threatened to kill us. I got information about the killings from a young man, Mohan Singh, who had come to my office looking completely shattered.
We didn’t really believe him because his account was so fanciful and bizarre. But a few hours later, we were to realise that even his words were not enough to describe the horror, the cruelty and the carnage that had gone on there.
Later it transpired that the butchery had taken place casually over two days because people used to come, kill and go back to their homes. They used to have their food, take rest, come back and start killing again.
It was very very cold, very cynical and calculated in one way and in another way it was completely barbaric and brutal.
We went back completely dazed and shocked. I have never seen anything like that in my life in a civilised city which is the capital of India.
There were just two police officers there. They had no explanation and were completely silent.
When I went back to Trilokpuri the next day, Nov 2, they had cleaned up the bodies, killing the evidence. There was no police there and there were just a few Sikh families that were given shelter by locals, who were fearful of their own lives.
For three days this carnage raged unchecked. Besides east Delhi, there were similar scenes in west Delhi, Chandni Chowk in the old quarter and in central Delhi. If police had been marginally vigilant and opened fire, the crowds would have dispersed. I don’t think there were any instances of anyone opening fire.
The fact is that the state was complicit for the first time in independent India’s history in participating in a very calculated ethnic cleansing programme.
Those three-four days, I think are one of the biggest blots on the Indian establishment.
(Rahul Bedi was one of the first journalists to reach Trilokpuri after the riots broke out. He spoke to Mayank Aggarwal.)