Delhi descends into savagery

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.)

21 thoughts on “Delhi descends into savagery

  1. Hi shekhar,
    why are you saying we remember these painful incidents? Let them be gone with those generations of people. Isnt it better to forget these incidents which will only incite more people to take up violence and instead focus on the better camaraderie.

  2. Civilization is just the crumbling crust and its expression is just a bubbling froth over what is, and what has always been a blatant savagery.
    We are not descended from heaven, we have ascended from hell – or still trying to.
    Acceptance is the only cure – or at least the hope of one.

  3. I am a medical student. I think I have been fooled since my birth. I have been told that India is the most beautiful country and Indians are the most wonderful people. They told me that I should be proud of my country and my Brothers. They kept feeding my brain with mythological stories through books and TV.
    But now I’m coming around many incidents like this which present the real face of our people. This incident was on the larger scale.
    I wish to leave India as soon as I complete my degree and go to US for further education and better life.
    You’re smart that you’ve already left.

  4. Hi Shekhar,
    I was in West Delhi at that time and was around 6years old. Although I was very young at that time, I can almost clearly remember everything that happened.
    I was suffering from chicken pox and my little brother was only 4 years old. My dad had any accident earlier and had a plastered leg. My mom was the only person who was taking care of my dad in bed, myself and my little brother. My little brother wore patka and we also had a ‘Khanda’ outside our house. My mom didn’t know what to do and just hung a sheet outside to cover it. She could hear the crowd going to each street 1 by one and doing the killings and loots. She could see our local Gurdwara on fire from the roof. Since my dad was always in the front room…she moved him to the back of the house along with us, without thinking that once they are in the house, we can easily be found at the back too.
    I remember vaguely seeing her rushing up on the roof to see what was going on and to come and try to take care of us. The loud noises could be hear and she could see smoke and fire around us in different streets.
    It was lucky for us that once the mob got to our street they decided to go to the other streets first which had more Sikh houses and leave our street for last, as we only had a couple of houses where Sikh lived. As they went further up, there was a family where one of their relative, who was visiting from US, had a pistol. And as he shot a fire in the air the mob ran away. Due to that 1 person, my family was left unharmed. I do not know who that was, but wherever he is, I would like to take this opportunity to thank him from the bottom of my heart.
    Lot of lives changed after that incident! I went back to school and found my friends crying all the time as there families were killed and the horror stories I heard and the people I saw, when I visited my doctor, will stay with me forever!
    Just thought I would share my experience on this day!
    My prayers are with all those families that suffered losses during the riots in 1984.
    P.S. I would also like to add that one thing I noticed after the riots was that all the Sikhs who suffered during the riots, lost there business there families, have come out to be even more successful and have been flourishing even more. Which shows that history repeats once again…every time an attack has been made on Sikhs they have come out of it even more stronger and flourishing!

  5. This whole murderous rampage was fomented by the congress govt. and people like sajjan kumar, tytler, hkl bhagat, arjun singh, balram jhakar, narasimha rao, rajesh pilot, scindia etc etc etc were all part of this shameful carnage. Some of them r dead now but if the law has to convict them posthumously; so be it.
    Wht kinda blasphemy is it when these secular parties label BJP communal and actively fill ears of western countries with crap by cooking imaginary tales that Bharat will witness genocides if BJP is handed over the reins?!
    I totally agree with Rimple ji that the Sikh community has always emerged stronger in the face of adversity and can proudly proclaim that our saffron brethren have done an outstanding job of representing their constituents in the UK, Canada and Australian parliaments.
    May be it was delayed redemption that we have a Sikh PM for 10 years and Gursharan Kaur chastely reciting Gurbani each and every morning in the PM’s official residence echoing those sentiments.
    It is not too late to build a memorial in the heart of the capital city to commemorate the 25th anniversary but more importantly chidambaram shd learn something from the chappal episode and make all those congress culprits who are still living go to jail.

  6. And yet you secularists have repeatedly voted the Congress into power. What a bunch of hypocrites!! The Congress has been the direct cause of ethic cleansing such as this, or a passive supporter of the cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits.
    Yet, they and their supporters have failed to look at the root cause of all this -> Pakistan, ISI and the islamic fundamentalists who put fuel into the fire of Khalistan and Kashmir separatists, and continue to do so. And it is highly probable that the ISI triggered the Godhra carnage..what would you expect from the majority Hindu populace when Hindu women and children returning from a holy ceremony are burnt to death by Muslims?
    You pseudos need to get a perspective and grip on reality before you are enslaved by the Chinese.

  7. However, it is a testimony to India’s integrity that, with all its diversity and attempts to exploit that, it still continues to function as one of the most socially harmonious and bonded countries in the world.
    The Chinese leaders have repeatedly ridiculed India calling it a fractured country which is not a real country, but they may have failed to understand the nature of the glue that binds us as Indians from the North to South, East to West, resident or NRI..remains to be seen if this holds true.

  8. Hey Brahmshastra, what does Islamic fundamentalism have to do with the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi ? I think you are looking for conspiracies that you can trace to Pakistan. Even if they do not exist.
    India did not exist before independence. It was the Congress that brought a coalition of States together to create a nation. If India breaks apart it is our own ineptitude and selfishness. The Maoist revolution in India is Maoist in name only. It has come because we that live in Urban India have never thought of them as equals. That is true whether it is the Congress or the BJP. I never saw the BJP make great moves to lift the state of the poor in India.

  9. At our primal instinctive level we are creatures built to depend on fear – we need it to survive. We will turn violent to deal with it. Can any of us who come here predict how you would react when faced extreme fear. Individual rationality is a veneer which buckles very quickly under the pressure of collective fear. We are all capable of violence and understand it very intimately. Which is why we can’t let go off these events from our collective consciousness . While we know it will not serve any worldly purpose we will continue to pass on our fears, anger and bitterness to our children through our stories of horror.
    Once the wave of fear passes away we will settle back into our favourite camps, blame a politician, a religious group or a country. How different is human anger and bitterness between different episodes of say genocide (for eg: WWII, Delhi riots, Godra riots). It is not different at all. The stories they spin have their individual flavour but all have the same vice like grip on our collective fear. They are all hinged on the very basic tenets of our survival mechanisms.
    Can we recognise and acknowledge this before we start strengthening our favourite defences.
    Also I wonder what if this post is attempting to resolve something for you Shekhar.

  10. shekhar,
    Please look this up, a recent development:
    “The appointment of Lt.-Gen. Javed Nasir, a former I.S.I. chief, who played a key role in creating the Taliban, as head of the Pakistan Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, is undoubtedly a calculated state policy to revive Sikh separatism, opines S. Venkatesh.”
    So you asked “what does Islamic fundamentalism have to do with the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi ? I think you are looking for conspiracies that you can trace to Pakistan. Even if they do not exist.”
    It is important to get the facts right. It has never been a secret that Pakistan and ISI have been involved in supporting the Khalistan movement. They managed to fuel the spark in fringe extremists within the Sikh community with financial, ideological and material support. Have you browsed through some related videos on youtube and other blogs? There seems to be a revival of an organized attempt at the root level to turn the Sikhs against Hindus (there is really no difference between them). So, it is reasonable to assume that 1984 would not have happened without the influence of ISI and Pakistan.
    Pakistan is basically an amalgam of forced converts from Hinduism and descendants of the Islamic fanatics from the mughal era. It is completely naive to assume that they will change their expansionist ways anytime soon.
    The Congress of Gandhi and Patel is different from the Congress of Laloos, Amar Singhs and Sonias.
    It is faulty to perceive the Maoist revolution as some kind of an uprising of the oppressed. It is quite true that there has been oppression in India, and the caste system was abused. However, this is not an earnest is one that has been blessed by weapons and logistics supplied by the Chinese through their proxies in Burma, Nepal, Pakistan, etc. It is a malevolent attempt to divide India into pieces, drive out the influential top brass (as yourself), and turn it into another Tibet. I would highly recommend people watch the movie-documentary “Tibet – Cry of the snow lion” to witness the ruthlessness that you are up against.

  11. Shekhar ji:
    China and Pak always wait for chances to destabilize Bharat, infact it is the full time job of paki and chinese consulates in New Delhi. Plz dont live in an illusion that Muslims luv Sikhs and their way of life. Try to recall wht the mughals tried to do during their rule and how Sikhs showed resistance by invoking their Guru’s name over and over again. Khalistan movement was fueled by ISI to destabilize india; not because they love Sikhism.
    Did u also say that India did not xsist before 1947, let me tell u something, just coz u were born in post independent era does not make the pre independent era a passing cloud. Unification of india was done by Sardar Patel and his team of like-minded patriots, else congress would have given autonomy to kashmir, hyderabad and other bickering parts of india under the garb of democracy [read hypocrisy of Nehru].
    Coming to BJP not helping the poor, at least they never distributed arrack, biryani and black money to buy votes. If half of the worlds’s BPL r in india is it completely the govt.’s fault? Please note that Maoists include post-graduate gold medalists who were frustrated with the state of the nation.
    Bhagavadgita says : Uddhareth Atmanam Atmanaha

  12. Very moving post.I am sure there are many more of such dark chapters authored by our politicians since 1947.
    Brahmastra, I dont know who triggered Godhra Carnage.But Indians carried it out and even perpetuated it.They still do,even today,somewhere or the other,in India.If voting voting Congress was a mistake (which probably was),then perpetuating carnage is bigger crime!And the root cause of it was religious fanatism (be it any religion).

  13. Religion and politics is at the center of this mindless shame and insanity. Education is the most important weapon India’s young need today to keep this country glued together for the future.

  14. Hi Shekhar,
    It is extremely painful to read about the 84 riots. It is equally painful to remember the times i had spent in Punjab when terror ruled the air in the pre-84 era. I have spent my entire childhood in punjab, seen many of my relatives and neighbours being kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by the terrorists during the regime of Bhindrawale. i have also been a witness to operation blue star from my roof top. Escaped from gunshots and bomb blasts in streets at least thrice. Punjab was a living hell before blue star. Now i see many people criticizing Indira Gandhi, but why dont people question the fact that why was the situation allowed to become so bad in the first place. Why were the terrorists allowed inside a temple at all? What was their business in a religious institution? Why is a murderer like Bhindrawale still considered a saint? Probably, because most of us do not like to open our eyes and see the truth in its totality. We just want to see bits and pieces which satisfy our own egos and beliefs.

  15. Hi Shekhar,
    I was 8 yrs then, putting up in trans yamuna, we were not let to go school for few days, a curfew kind of a situation. Used to quitely listen the conversation between the elders, there were few sikh families nearby. Though my grand pa was a congressi and was upset ubout assasination of Indira Gandhi, but the punjabi community led by my grand pa and few other dominating persons didn’t let any body harm the sikhs nearby.
    I’m proud of my grand pa, who atleast defended my close sikh friends and their families. Yet i get upset when i remember those moments.
    I respect sikhism and pray Guru Nanak Dev and all the Gurus to forgive us and give us NEK BUDDHI.
    Sat Shri Alal
    Vikas Chopra

  16. my uncle was the first sikh who was killed in the riots… he owned a huge bussiness of taxi’s and this is the story i heard from his own family that surived… i must have not been 9… my uncle was draged out from his house to his taxi stand beaten all the way there… while his young daughter ran after him trying to save him… they hanged him in front of her but did not kill him fully and then burned him alive… imagen seeing your own father die in front of you…. she was left to die at the stand… broken arm leg and god knows what else… she I heard after 1 yr lived and joined the radical sikh movement… then they say why and how do we save our childern from something like that… she is dead now.. well that is what i know… no one talks about this in our family… but 1984 case are still going on… so many died in name of caste system… we should not repeat the past and learn to heal those who have been hurt…

  17. Hi,
    I’m from TamilNadu, and the riots was just news to me. I was 8 years old then. Later I got a chance to be around the Delhi Chandigarh belt for around 10 years and got to know about the effects of the riots and even Partition. though the killings didn’t scar people down here, there are the religious riots and the caste killings that erupt religiously every few years leave a lot of scars. Anyway we need to remember the riots be it in Gujarat or Orissa Or Delhi, we also need to remember that we as humans can become so inhuman as to kill even those we know and say we love. We need to remember not to carry the wounds, but to prevent more killings, so we don’t take to violence easily.

  18. Horrific, historical part of not only India’s history; but as a reflection that most nations on earth.. have, or have had such carnage & slaughter. It confirms humankinds inablity to control emotion, hate, fear or ego. I am part Ojibway and part White; i belong to no side of my ancestory roots; yet, if feel the pain of both my Indian and White roots; to know.. war, murder, mayhem & tyranny is a human dis-ease.
    Yes, this horrific event must be remembered always.. so that it is never repeated in current or future history!

  19. Hi Shekhar,
    I have read and researched so much on the 1984 anti-sikh massacre (it was not a riot, as one community was murdered with calculated moves). And this piece by Rahul Bedi only comes as a reminder that we humans are the most inhuman of everything on this earth.
    Whenever I see Bandit Queen, I always feel that only you have the ability to bring the two days of barbaric killings and rapes of Trilokpuri on to the screen. It is my sincere request to use your creative abilities and the same rustic feel of Bandit Queen to make a film on that. And I am saying only trilokpuri, as it will be much more focused picture of the apathy of Indian government without getting entangled in cinematic continuity issues.
    Anyday you are ready to take on this challenge, pls contact me as I will be more than happy to write the script for you, and use my anger and passion to bring out that pain. There’s not a single day, when I don’t cry for these victims, and of Mumbai riots and Godhra..and the multiple communcal riots tthat take place in our wonderfully secular country every hour (surely one is on even right now).
    Pls make this film…I beg of you on behalf of all the victims and their agony.

  20. A good film reflecting the real aspects of the massacre is really needed. Specially by a person like yourself who manifested the riots.
    I am sure this kind of work will be appreciated by the people around the world who are still human at heart.

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