Anti-Sikh Violence In 1984: Bone Chilling First Hand Account
Sanjay Suri, now a London-based journalist, who was a young crime reporter in New Delhi in 1984 gives a bone chilling first hand account of anti-Sikh violence in Delhi in 1984 exposing the dubious role of Congress(I) leaders.
Sanjay Suri was a young crime reporter with The Indian Express newspaper in New Delhi when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards on 31 October 1984. He was among the few journalists to experience the full horror of the anti-Sikh violence that followed and carried on unchecked for the next couple of days, while the police looked the other way. He saw a Congress MP demanding the release of party workers who had been arrested for loot. He had a narrow escape from a gang of killers while out reporting. He later filed affidavits that included eyewitness accounts relating to two Congress MPs, and confronted former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally. Suri also testified before several commissions of inquiry set up to investigate the massacres-though very little came of these.
In this book, he brings together a wealth of fresh revelations, arising from his own experiences, and from extensive interviews with police officers then in the front line of facing the violence. Humane but chilling, Suri’s account is backed by a thorough examination of existing records and the provisions of the Indian legal system. Taking a close look at the question of the Congress hand behind the brutalities and why the survivors continue to wait for justice even thirty years later, 1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and After remains urgent even today. It combines expert reportage with gripping recollections to tell a riveting story, leaving us disturbed and moved in equal measure. Here are the excerpts from the book:
“The call to the office of The Indian Express newspaper in New Delhi came in the afternoon. ‘The police have arrested many men for looting Sikhs,’ the voice said. ‘A Congress MP has come to the police station. A big confrontation is taking place now because he wants the men from his party to be released.’ Not the exact words, but this was more or less what the man had called up to say.
Could this be true? Would a Congress-I member of parliament (MP) show his hand, the party hand, so openly? Would he really come to claim men hauled up for attacking and looting Sikhs after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as the party’s own? And then ask for them to be released?
It was an anonymous call, hard to believe. Politicians drop hints, they send word, they find ways of letting it be known what it is they want. It was hard to imagine an MP turning up in person at a police station to make such a demand.
But that wasn’t the only bit hard to believe. Could it be that the police somewhere had actually taken steps against the hordes of men who had attacked, looted and killed Sikhs on the streets of Delhi? We had seen, I had seen myself, the police deliberately do nothing to protect Sikhs through the violence that arose after Mrs Gandhi’s death. In those days, for the police to arrest such criminals would itself be news.
The man had spoken with great urgency; his tone rang true. My gut feeling was that this information needed to be checked out. In the business of reporting you learn to make room for what is neither likely nor logical. What sounded more unlikely was an indiscretion by a Congress leader in publicly claiming ownership of men arrested for criminal acts, and not the fact that ruling party men had engaged in violence, with the backing if not leadership of their seniors.
I had run into killers just a couple of days earlier on the streets of Sultanpuri in west Delhi. Their Congress connections seemed evident. Through the worst of the killing in days earlier we had all witnessed a collapse of the ruling Congress government and its agencies. The government had emphatically failed to protect Sikhs, at the political level through its decisions and indecisions, and at the administrative level through the inaction of the police. But no Congress leader had publicly gone so far as what the caller was now claiming.
No doubt the caller had his interests. That would not be unusual— newsrooms do get information as a matter of course only because it suits someone to pass it on. A beat crime reporter makes it his business to invite such information discreetly. The caller could have been from an opposition party, he could have been a concerned citizen, a do-gooder from within the Congress, someone who wanted to nail the MP, someone within the police. I didn’t know and it didn’t matter. The question was whether this was worth checking out.
A couple of us in the newsroom, and there were just a couple of us around at that time, were dismissive of the tip-off. None of us thought it likely that a Congress MP would go to a police station with such a demand, even if it were his men who had been taken in. But a fellow reporter I spoke with agreed that the scenario would be quite extraordinary if true. Could this be the chink through which the hand of the Congress leadership might become visible?
I had no immediate word of any new violence in the city at that time. It was 5 November. By then, the killing was done. So I took my old Vespa scooter and headed out to Karol Bagh police station.
I could hardly have suspected then that this expedition would lead to just about the firmest evidence I ever would see of the involvement of Congress-I leaders—along with top police officers—in the looting and the killing that came with it. It led, in fact, to the most direct evidence so far of the party’s involvement at such a senior level that I’ve seen anywhere yet. Nor could I have anticipated that the visit to the police station would lead further to an encounter over the incident with the prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi—and later bring me up against the defence of the Congress offered by his son Rahul ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2014.”
(The book is available at https://www.juggernaut.in/books/1984-anti-sikh-riots-after)