Freedom and After                                                                                                                       Back to History Page
1984 Delhi Massacre
The November 1984 carnage in Delhi is one of the darkest periods in the history of independent India. From October 31 to November 7, 1984, Delhi along with many other places in India witnessed widespread disturbances in which thousands of Sikhs were killed following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards.

Thousands died during four days of an organized pogrom in Delhi orchestrated by the high ups in the Congress Party.  Beginning late afternoon on October 31, 1984, murderous mobs directed by officials and with police inaction, even connivance, went on rampage, targeting Sikhs, their establishments, and their homes. Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge was the death cry which emanated from Safdarjang Road, where Mrs Gandhi 's body lay; it found echoes across Delhi, Gurgaon, Kanpur, Bokaro, Indore and in trains.

Sikhs were dragged out of their homes, attacked with iron rods, trapped in burning tires or in their flaming shops and homes, and their women raped. Many Sikh men cut their hair in desperation to save themselves. Even Sikh army officers in uniform were pulled out of trains and killed. The police, at many places, went around on motorcycles shouting encouragement to the mobs while Congress leaders were seen instigating those beholden to them in the vast slum clusters.

The help to the victims came from very few organized groups, notable amongst them the Nagarik Ekta Manch, a citizens group that was set up spontaneously in response to the carnage. People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) rushed their fact finding missions to the scenes of violence and on November 17, released their report on the carnage titled Who are the Guilty?

The main findings of the report were that the carnage was the "outcome of a well-
organized plan marked by acts of both deliberate commission and omission by important p
politicians of the Congress (I) at the top and by authorities in the Administration." Some
of these important politicians of Congress were the then Home Minister, P.V. Narasimha
Rao; Members of Parliament, H.K.L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Dharam Das Shastri;
and Lt. Governor of Delhi P.G. Gavai. Among other things, the report carried, in an
annexure, the names of the people against whom allegations were leveled by the victims.
Among them were 198 local Congress-I activists, 15 Congress-I leaders and 143 police
officials. The main findings of the report were substantiated later by the report of the
Citizens for Democracy in January 1985 and another report by a Citizens' Commission
headed by former Chief Justice of India, S.M. Sikri, as well as by Nagarik Ekta Manch,
Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan and others. The PUDR/PUCL findings were also corroborated by press reports.

                                             The worst of the massacres was witnessed by Block 32, Trilokpuri. This locality housed                                                         working class Labana Sikhs -- mostly coolies, carpenters, rickshaw pullers and charpai                                                         weavers -- originally refugees from Sindh during partition and forcibly settled later in this                                                         block during 1975-76 emergency days. On November 3, 1984 when members of the                                                               PUDR/PUCL team reached this block, they were greeted by a strong stench of burnt                                                             bodies which were still rotting inside some of the houses. The team found survivors -- old                                                        men, women and children -- some with severe burns, huddled together in the open on the                                                       main road. The entire lane was littered with pieces of burnt furniture, papers, scooters and                                                      piles of ash in the shape of human bodies.  Almost 450 people were killed in this block                                                          alone. Many women were raped and abducted to nearby Chilla goan. The mobs were                                                             allegedly organized by local Congress councilor, Dr. Ashok Kumar. Police from                                                                     Kalyanpuri police station, in which the block then fell, actively connived with the mobs. 

                                             Rahul Bedi and Joseph Maliakan, two reporters of Indian Express tried their best to get some help while the carnage was going on, and pleaded with a number of police officials but to no avail. In one of his reports, Bedi wrote, "The street in Block 32 was littered with charred bodies, limbs and burnt hair. It was very difficult to walk without tumbling upon these parts. There I met a Sikh woman who took us to the scene of the massacre. There was a boy whose stomach had been cut open. He was holding it together with his turban. He was thirsty and wanted water. We, the reporters, took him to the police vehicle. I subsequently learnt that the Sikh boy had died in the hospital." Bedi helped several injured people and the Station House Officer (SHO), Kalyanpuri, Soor Vir Singh, did not do anything to help. "We did not find the SHO or the police people making any arrangement. When we left they were standing there, surrounded by mobs."

On the evening of November 2, CRPF troops arrived in Block 32 and the survivors began their exodus to the Farash Bazar camp. Today, many of the female survivors of the massacre live in Tilak Vihar, a locality that has become known as the  "Widows' Colony." All this has been documented in the thousands of heartrending affidavits filed by the victims and in the PUDR/PUCL report.

The government has accepted the claims of 2427 dead, 2403 injuries and 3537 cases of damage to and destruction of houses. That covers only Delhi. However, some of the unofficial estimates of the dead in Delhi alone exceed 5,000. Then there were many Sikhs killed outside Delhi, in other parts of India.

For months, the public appeals for a judicial inquiry into the carnage fell on deaf ears. The Rajiv Gandhi government stalled on the appointment of a commission of inquiry for six months and it was only when the Rajiv-Longowal accord was signed in April 1985 that the government was forced to appoint a commission since Longowal had insisted on it. However, the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission which was appointed under Section 3 of The Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, was asked to inquire into "allegations" of violence and not to inquire into the "nature" of violence, a departure from the terms of reference of over a dozen other commissions on communal disturbances since independence.

Almost two decades after the violence, the victims still wait for justice. There are only six persons
who are serving sentence despite the massive scale of crimes. More than a dozen commissions
and committees have been appointed since then to look into various aspects of that organized
mob violence. Other than the scathing indictment of the government by Justice S.N. Dhingra and
his sentencing 89 persons for the crimes, nothing of substance, has emerged from these
commissions. The prominent and the leading accused in the riots -- H.K.L. Bhagat and Sajjan
Kumar -- have been acquitted for 'lack of evidence.'

The latest commission headed by Justice Nanavati was appointed by the NDA government on
May 10, 2000 to look into the causes of and the manner in which the riots occurred. It was
asked to fix the responsibility for any lapses or dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities
in taking steps to prevent the incidents.

The depositions made before the Nanavati Commission so far emphasize the planned nature of
the riots. The statements contradict the conclusion of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission
that the rioting was spontaneous. Many prominent persons, including Khushwant Singh, Jaya Jaitly, Madan Lal Khurana, Madhu Kishwar, Lt. Gen J.S. Aurora, Patwant Singh, Justice R.S. Narula, Swami Agnivesh, and ex-Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, have deposed before the commission. These people have for the first time put on record what they had already said in public speeches or published works.

Khushwant Singh appealed to President Giani Jail Singh to intervene. Being a Sikh, the President had lost whatever authority he had and was helpless. The President had to seek the help of Madanlal Khurana of BJP to retrieve the body of a relative from the police in west Delhi. Khushwant Singh was advised to look for his own safety which he did by seeking refuge in the Swedish embassy! "I was like a refugee in my own country. Like a Jew in Nazi Germany," an Khushwant Singh told the Nanavati commission.

Lt. Gen. J.S. Aurora appealed to the Narsamiha Rao to deploy the army immediately but without success.  Aurora himself had to seek refuge during the violence.

The 1984 anti-Sikh riot in the Delhi will remain as a disgraceful blot on the history of inter-community relations in independent India.

A victim burnt alive
The survivors of the massacre 
Organized mobs on rampage.
October 31, 1984:

9:20 AM: Indira Gandhi shot by two of her security guards at her residence, No. 1 Safdarjung Road, and rushed to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

11:00 AM: All India Radio listeners learn that two security guards who shot Indira Gandhi were Sikhs.

4:00 PM: Rajiv Gandhi returns from West Bengal and reaches AIIMS. Stray incidents of attacks in and around that area.

5:30 PM: The cavalcade of President Zail Singh, who returned from a foreign visit, was stoned as it approached AIIMS.

Late Evening and Night: Mobs fanned out in different directions from AIIMS. The violence against Sikhs spread, starting in the neighboring constituency of Congress Councillor Arjun Das. The violence included burning of vehicles and other properties of Sikhs and happened even in VIP areas such as in the vicinity of Prithviraj Road.

Shortly after Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in, senior advocate and opposition leader, Ram Jethmalani, met Home Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao and urged him to to take immediate steps to save Sikhs from further attacks. Delhi's Lt. Governor, P.G. Gavai and Police Commissioner, S.C. Tandon, visited some of the violence affected areas.  But no precautionary follow -up action was initiated.

On the night of October 31 and morning of November 1, several Congress leaders held meetings and mobilised support to launch a full scale pogram against Delhi's Sikhs.