For the benefit of our readers we have decided to publish extracts from “THE PUNJAB CRISIS AND HUMAN RIGHTS,” by S. Iqbal Singh of University of Chicago. Mr. Singh’s work stands out distinct as an objective and analytical study of a subject that has been distorted out of all proportions especially by those who have been laboriously endeavoring to justify the Army action as inevitable. Mr. Singh’s approach is none motional and solely motivated by his anxiety to sift the truth from out of the smoke and dust screen of confusing hues.

This Extract is Third in the Series.

The State dereliction

Mind-numbing Tragedy

Another tragedy was soon to overtake the Sikh minority community. In the wake of political assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi by two of her trusted and long serving personal body guards, who happened to be Sikhs, unprecedented and barbaric violence and arson followed in Delhi and other parts of India against Sikhs. In the words of Dharama Vira, Principal Secretary to India’s first Prime Minister Nehru and former Governor, “While Delhi was numbed by shock and sorrow, a wild frenzy of terror, murder, loot and arson seized large sections of the city. Its prime target was a minority community (Sikhs)

In large parts of the country the violence spread in varying degrees of intensity, shaking faith in our secularism not only on the part of the afflicted community, but also of other minorities … the administration appeared to have been totally paralyzed for three critical days while hordes of hooligans bent on loot, raping, murder and arson held free sway.”

“All human life obliterated: Civilization broke down at Sikh colony near Delhi” this is how

Los Angeles Times reported the calamity that overtook the Sikh minority community and went on to write: “When the history is written of the horrors that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the 32nd block of Trilokpuri Colony will be remembered as a place where civilization disintegrated.” Washington Post wrote: “… when historians scrutinize the inhumaneness that swept through India for four long days … it may become a benchmark.” This was the worst violence since India became independent in 1947. Suddenly the 1947 memories of mindless killing, rape, loot, trains of death and more came alive.

Spontaneous Grief and Anger or Preplanned Carnage

There have been suggestions that there was a preplanned conspiracy to wreak revenge on Sikhs because of the recent happenings in Punjab. The authorities believe that it was an instinctive and natural expression of wrath and agony on the part of people at Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination and that the Government tried its best to bring the difficult situation under control. Further, that the administration provided protection to the life and property of the minority community wherever possible with its already overtaxed resources and succeeded in reestablishing law and order in a short span of time. The three independent investigations of Chief Justice Sikri, Professor Rajni Kothari and Manushi, found that the uniformity in the sequence of events at every spot even “at far flung places proved beyond doubt that the attacks were masterminded by some powerful organized groups. Newspaper reports suggest that this pattern is similar in all Congress (I) ruled states.”


The remarkable consistency in the pattern of the crimes committed, with some local variations, strongly suggested that at some stage the objective became to “teach the Sikhs a lesson.”” One of the findings of Professor Kothari’s joint inquiry reads: “The targets were primarily young Sikhs. They were dragged out, beaten up and then burnt alive. While old men, women and children were generally allowed to escape, their houses were set on fire after looting of valuables. Documents pertaining to their legal possession of the houses were also burnt. In some areas … even children were not spared. We also came across reports of gang rape of women … With cans of petrol they (arsonists) went around the localities and systematically set fire to Sikh houses, shops, gurudwaras, and schools” which had already been identified from the voter lists with paint markings during night hours. “In South Delhi, buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation (Government owned) were used by the miscreants to move from place to place on their murderous journey.”

Bureaucratic indifference

There is evidence of gross bureaucratic negligence at all levels of administration. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was “understandably stricken with the grief at his mother’s death and was busy with arrangements for her state funeral. But it was galling for Sikhs to see him all day on television receiving condolences beside his mother’s body as it lay in state, while Sikhs were being attacked and getting little protection.” Sharp criticism of Rajiv Gandhi’s handling of the violence came from the former Prime Minister Charan Singh, who accused him of “ineptness” in handling the gruesome violence.

Wall Street Journal wrote “Mr. Gandhi made a statement on radio and television Wednesday night urging Indians to avoid violence and remain calm. As communal violence spread on Thursday, he did not issue any additional nationwide appeals. However, he appeared at the New Delhi museum where his mother lay in state, and admonished the large crowd there to stop chanting the slogan “blood for blood.” Critics believe Rajiv Gandhi’s appeals for “calm,” though well-meaning, had little or no effect on the crowd behavior and were poor substitute for concrete action like timely and adequate deployment of armed forces.

While the city burnt, women raped and Sikh males killed or set on fire, “many senior politicians, bureaucrats and police officers seem to have spent most of their time … where Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s body lay, or preparing to receive foreign dignitaries for the grand funeral. Others were busy helping to coordinate the murder, rape and plunder” of the Sikh minority. Home Minister and Home Secretary, the officials responsible for the maintenance of law and order, and those below them apparently failed to meet the challenges of a difficult situation and thus contributed to the exacerbation of tragedy through neglect and dereliction of their charge.

Administrative Failure Chief

Justice Sikri’s Commission and other enquiries found that the administration was apathetic and indifferent to the ongoing violence and arson against the Sikh community. The Commission felt the administration failed to take preventive measures for the protection of the Sikh minority for which adequate time was available. After the violence had broken out the administration failed to deploy effectively either the paramilitary or police force. It also failed to call the army in time and in sufficient strength. There was little thought or effort given to cooperation or coordination with the army units after their belated requisition, who were “at times deliberately misled” regarding directions to the areas of violence and arson. The Commission felt that ‘“‘a certain paralysis of decision making had gripped the authorities.

Police Abetment

Almost everywhere in the city, the police … behaved like amused spectators. In many cases, they actively abetted the criminal acts, and in some cases, even participated in them.” There is ample evidence to suggest that the police not only failed to discharge its duties in protecting the victims but also abetted acts of arson and violence against the Sikhs. Large numbers of Sikh policemen of the Delhi police force and some Sikh soldiers were disarmed and taken off duty. This acted as an encouragement to the criminals for they had a freer hand and could act with greater assurance that no element of official agency would intervene. There were instances where “the police reportedly accompanied the arsonists and provided them with diesel from their jeeps. The Station House Officer (area Police Commissioner) of Kalyanpuri police station withdrew the constables who were on duty there when Sikh girls were being raped.” A team of investigating professors from the Delhi University and Center for Study of Developing Societies found evidence that the police had fired at and killed some Sikhs instead of providing them protection simultaneously it had sealed off the entire Sikh community by posting armed police and police cars at all exit streets; during this entrapment the Sikh community was systematically killed. Later the dead bodies and evidence were removed this was done by some members of the mob with the assistance of the police.

Congress (I) Involvement

Chief Justice Sikri, Professor Kothari and Manushi’s respective enquiries found independently that at least four Members of Parliament belonging to the ruling party were involved in inciting and guiding the mobs against the Sikh minority community. Local Congress (I) leaders and workers led and directed the arsonists in their respective areas. Mary Ann Weaver reported in the Christian Science Monitor, “At least four district level party leaders (members of parliament) … appear to have been actively involved in the violence.” The Congress members of parliament pressurized the police, with success, to release arsonists in many instances. Both the Congress (1) high command and Rajiv Gandhi dismiss the serious charges leveled against their men.

(To be Continued)

Article extracted from this publication >>  October 6, 1985