For the benefit of our readers we have decided to publish extracts from “THE PUNJAB CRISIS AND HUMAN RIGHTS,” by S. Igbal 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 Fourth in the Series
3oss of Life and Property
The true extent of loss of Sikh life and damage to property and business will probably be never known. In the first few weeks after the tragedy, the Government maintained the loss of life at 325, a figure termed by the Kothari investigation as “ridiculously low compared to the magnitude of arson, lynching and burning alive of people.” After weeks of pressure from the opposition and in the face of mounting evidence collected by various civil rights organizations, a statement was made in the Indian Parliament that 2776 people had indeed been killed in the riots against the Sikhs. According to the Sikri’s Report, in Delhi alone there were “over a thousand widows and numerous orphans” at the end of three to four days of mob rule. Opposition leaders have placed the number of dead at 10,000.
Destruction of Temples
More disturbing was the fact that “for the first time in the history of mob violence in India, a systematic attack was made on places of worship. Of about 450 Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) in Delhi some three quarters (340) are reported to have been damaged or destroyed.” Property damage is difficult to assess at present but it is considered to run into billions of rupees. In Delhi alone 50,000 became homeless after their houses had been put to torch. Sikh educational institutions, trucks, taxicabs, scooters and other possessions were burnt with a vengeance. Factories and business premises, together with their machinery and stock-in-trade were looted, damaged or destroyed both in Delhi and parts of India where Sikhs resided.
Profile of the Carnage
Some relevant extracts are reproduced from various enquiry findings to help understand the profile of the carnage:
“The men were burnt alive… All the women were stripped and many dishonored. She herself was taped by ten men…”
Chief Justice Sikri, p 16
“She was accompanied by a completely dazed girl, hardly 16 years old, widow of her recently married and recently butchered son. This young girl sat through her mother-in-law’s harrowing testimony shedding silent tears of grief and despair.”
Chief Justice Sikri, p 1.
They (neighborhood police) also beat this 75year old man and confiscated his unloaded licensed revolver which he had owned since 1944. They dragged him by his hair to the jeep and took him to the Police Station, continuing to hit him with the butts of their guns (The Police). He was told to kill two Sikhs if he wanted to be freed.”
Chief Justice Sikri, pp21-22 “There were seven or eight pol icemen standing by who witnessed the mob’s activities but did nothing to stop him. When asked to prevent the mob from damaging the (Sikh) school, they said they could do nothing.”
Kothari, p 17.
“A serving army NCO (Warrant Officer) was returning to Delhi from Amritsar in train. . . he was witness to the stopping of the trains on the approach to Delhi across the Yamuna river when Sikh passengers, including some Sikh soldiers, were beaten and or killed. After being beaten some were thrown into river while others were roasted alive. . . also saw heads and beards of dead Sikhs being shaved after which kerosene was poured over their faces and set alight so that the dead person could not be identified.”
Chief Justice Sikri, pp 24-25
“The Rajdhani Express, India’s premier train… on the outskirts of New Delhi the train stopped (unscheduled halt), and about a hundred people, pounding windows with iron rods and stones . . , wielding sticks came into the compartment and shouted ‘come out, all the Sikhs in here’. . . there was no response . . . “Here! Here! Come here! We have got one of these fellows” . . . one of the marauding youths was pulling a Sikh man by his long hair, three other attackers followed, hitting the Sikh with tods . . . they hauled the beaten, deeply wounded man outside…a few moments later an acrid smell floated into the car through the broken windows. The crowd parted we saw flames leap up from the body of the Sikh… we could only watch from the window.”
The Tribune, Oakland, November 3, 1984
The Role of the Press
With some exceptions, the Indian press and individual correspondents rendered a great public service in bringing to light the gory events in different localities from time to time. The reporting was, by and large, responsible and constructive. However, “the coverage of the crisis by the official radio and visual media, beginning with news of the assassination, had not been formulated with adequate care and foresight in relation to the psychological impact of their transmissions.” In fact, the state television “allowed the broadcast of highly provocative slogans” in its coverage.
The government agencies tried to create hurdles.in the reporting of foreign journalists. For instance the film reels used by the reporters to photograph the events were confiscated at the airport or by police. There were instances where dispatches were not transmitted overseas on the grounds that satellite facilities were defective. There were instances where foreign reporters were attacked and beaten by the rampaging arsonists for attempting to take photos of mob violence. This happened in the presence of scores of policemen who outnumbered the mob by 2 to 1, and continued to watch the mayhem idly.
The calamitous events of 1984 have created a chilling realization among the Sikhs that they are aliens in India. Khuswant Singh, Member of Parliament and well known historian, who went through a harrowing experience during the carnage bemoaned that “the violent Hindu backlash against Sikhs, unprecedented in its savagery, appears to have convinced many Sikhs of the need for a separate homeland . . . What happened last week was genocide. We are like the Jews in Nazi Germany.” To understand the crisis relating to 15 million Sikhs the world over, a brief historical overview the main religious beliefs and an objective account of their aspirations for equality and justice follows.
(To be Concluded)