Nearly 3,000 members of India’s Sikh community were massacred after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984. The wave of ethnic cleansing which raged unhindered across the country, especially in Delhi, after Mrs Gandhi was shot dead ended only with her cremation on 2 November. During these three days, droves of Sikhs were determinedly hunted down by Hindu mobs from their homes, corralled and slaughtered like animals.
The trigger for Mrs Gandhi’s killing was the storming of the Golden Temple in Sikhism’s holy city Amritsar four months earlier to flush out Sikh militants fighting for an independent homeland of Khalistan or Land of the Pure. The heavily-armed militants – many of them former soldiers – had barricaded themselves inside the temple and were dislodged only after three days of bitter fighting. Some 1,000 people, including women and children pilgrims and about 157 soldiers, died.
Tanks too were employed to end the siege, leaving Sikhs highly aggrieved. The eventual and possibly avoidable storming of the Golden Temple generated a wave of violence leading to Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, the anti-Sikh riots and a vicious insurgency across Punjab that was eventually stamped out by the military around 1993, although not without widespread human rights abuses.
But, the 1984 Delhi riots rocked the world, more so for the state’s direct involvement and public justification of the blood-letting. Reacting to the continuing Sikh killings in Delhi and other places, newly appointed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi declared at a massive rally in the capital that “once a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it shakes”. One of the worst massacres took place in two narrow alleys in the city’s poor Trilokpuri colony where some 350 Sikhs, including women and children, were casually butchered over 72 hours.
The charred and hacked remains of the hundreds that perished in Trilokpuri’s Block 32 on the smoky and dank evening of 2 November 1984 were stark testimony to the unimpeded and seemingly endless massacre. Soon after news of Mrs Gandhi’s killing by her Sikh bodyguards spread, Hindu mobs swung into action – like they did elsewhere in the city armed with voters’ lists – in Trilokpuri against the low caste Sikhs inhabiting oneroomed tenements on either side of two narrow alleyways barely 150 yards long.
With local police connivance they blocked entry to the neighborhood with massive concrete water pipes and stationed guards armed with sticks atop them. For the next three days marauding groups armed with cleavers, scythes, kitchen knives and scissors took breaks to eat and regroup in between executing their bloodthirsty mission. No one spoke and nothing, except the bizarre, dancing shadows moved during this surrealistic interlude. The police arrived in Trilokpuri 24 hours later when a newspaper revealed the horrific massacre. Sadly, there were no Sikhs left to protect.
BHAGWANI KAUR, RIOT VICTIM On November 1 morning, there was stone-pelting between both parties (Sikhs and non-Sikhs) in Trilokpuri area. When the police came, they first cordoned off the area and then indicated the non-Sikhs to go ahead. Rioters barged into our homes, pulled out utensils and other goods and looted our homes. The men were dragged out by their hair and killed. On the third day, trucks were brought in, the bodies were taken away and dumped in the Yamuna.
‘They threw my father from top floor’ Paramjeet Kaur, lost her father and three uncles in riots I was just 11 years old in 1984. My father, three of my uncles, a brother-in-law and a cousin were killed in the riots. One of my cousins tried to hide on the windowsill but he couldn’t escape. The rioters burnt him alive. I still remember the ghastly scene. My father was thrown from the top floor. His head was smashed. My younger brothers were made to wear girls’ dresses to escape. The women, my two sisters and 3-4 other women, had a horrific time.
‘When will we get justice?’
HUKM SINGH, lost his two toddler sons, a brotherI lost my two sons — four and two-and-a-half years — and a brother at Jagatpuri during the three-day rioting in 1984. They were among the 11 people from three families in our building to be killed. My landlord and his family were killed. My plyboard factory in Radhapuri was set afire.
Timeline of events
November 1984: Sikhs were killed in the riots following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi Oct 31, 1984.
Feb 8, 2005: Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission appointed to look into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, submits its report.
October 2005: A case is registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the recommendation of the Nanawati Commission.
Feb 1, 2010: Court issues summons against Sajjan Kumar and seven other accused — Balwan Khokkar, Mahender Yadav, Girdhari Lal, Kishan Khokkar, Captain Bhagmal, Maha Singh and Santosh Rani. Six accused are alive and facing trial.
Feb 8, 2010: Delhi High court appoints special public prosecutor R.S. Cheema to conduct the trial on a daily basis so that the proceedings can be concluded in six months.
Feb 15, 2010: Sajjan Kumar’s anticipatory bail rejected by additional sessions judge.
Feb 17, 2010: Non-bailable warrants issued against Sajjan Kumar
Feb 23, 2010: Sajjan Kumar untraceable.
Feb 26, 2010: Anticipatory bail granted to Sajjan Kumar by the Delhi High Court.
July 1, 2010: Prosecution produces 17 witnesses.Witnesses Jagdish Kaur, Jagsher Singh and Nirpreet Kaur identify Sajjan Kumar in court and depose against him.
June 2011: Prosecution evidence ends.
August 2011: Defence prosecution starts. They produce 17 witnesses, of whom six are officials from Delhi Police who depose in favour of Sajjan Kumar.
April 2012: Prosecution concludes its arguments
January 2013: Defence concludes its arguments and a judgment is pronounced.
April 30: District and sessions court acquits Sajjan Kumar, convicts former councillor Balwan Khokkar, former legislator Mahender Yadav, Kishan Khokkar, Girdhari Lal and Captain Bhagmal.
VICTIMS TO GET ADDITIONAL RS 5 LAKH NEW DELHI (TIP):
As the nation prepares to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the government has said it would offer Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of the 3,325 victims. This amount would be additional to whatever compensations they have received so far. The Union Home Ministry has also approved a proposal to substantially increase compensations to civilians falling victim to communal, Maoist or terrorist violence from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.
Compensation to the anti-Sikh riot victims, which would cost the exchequer an additional Rs 166.25 crore, will be dispersed soon. The riots were triggered after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards. The decision to disperse additional compensation follows petitions by several Sikh organisations to the NDA government. The previous UPA government announced an Rs 717 crore package for the Sikh victims, including financial compensation of Rs 3.5 lakh to the next of kin of those killed, but it could only spend Rs 517 crore due to dispute over claimants.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh also decided to increase compensation for victims of communal, Maoist and terrorist violence at a high-level meeting where the issue came up. “Till now the next of kin of persons killed or civilians who suffered permanent incapacitation as a result of violence were paid Rs 3,00,000 as per provisions of the Central Scheme for Assistance to Civilian Victims of Terrorist/Communal/Naxal violence since 2008,” an official statement said.
Families of victims are eligible for the assistance irrespective of previous compensations. Official figures reveal that the government had dispersed Rs 6.12 crore as compensation to civilian victims in 204 incidents of terrorist, communal and naxal violence in 2011-12 and Rs 3.99 crore in 133 incidents in 2012-13. However, no compensations could be given in 2013-14 and 2014-15 (till July) since state governments have not mooted the proposals.