On the 36th Anniversary of the Genocide of the Sikhs
Statement of Lok Raj Sangathan, 18 October, 2020
October 31st marks the 36th anniversary of one of the most horrendous crimes against the people of India. On this day in 1984, the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi was shot dead, allegedly by her own bodyguards. As if on cue, large-scale mayhem broke out in Delhi, Kanpur, and many other parts of India. Over three thousand people of the Sikh faith were killed in Delhi alone, and thousands more in the rest of the country. Thirty-six years later, hardly a handful of criminals have been convicted for this appalling crime – and more importantly, the criminal involvement of those in command of this entire operation, and the heinous role of the political masters behind this genocide have been kept under wraps.
It is thus no surprise that similar acts of communal violence and state terror have been unleashed time and again thereafter – in Mumbai and other parts of India in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 – 93, in Gujarat in 2002 and so on. Hence, the demand of “Punish the guilty” of those responsible for planning and executing the Sikh genocide of 1984 is as compelling and imperative as ever.
From colonial times, those who have ruled India have used communal violence as a means of keeping the Indian people divided so that they could not fight effectively against their common oppressor. In the 1980s, terror was unleashed especially in Punjab – supposedly by separatists demanding Khalistan and government forces too. Thousands of people were killed in murderous incidents. While Hindus were massacred in some, Sikhs were slaughtered in others. Later investigations have pointed to the role of covert agencies of the government in many of these incidents.
In June 1984, Indian armed forces launched an assault on one of the most revered shrines of the Sikhs – the Golden Temple in Amritsar, supposedly to ferret out extremists ensconced inside. Codenamed ‘Operation Bluestar’, the military operation was organised on a festival day when thousands of pilgrims and visitors had thronged the shrine. As could be expected, this led to the clearly avoidable deaths of several innocents and did great physical damage to the shrine. This naturally led to great disillusionment and anger among followers of the Sikh faith and was also roundly condemned by freedom-loving people all over the globe.
Within literally minutes after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated, goons organised as armed mobs started massacring Sikhs. Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, cynically justified the mob violence as a legitimate reaction to the assassination “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes”. Rumours were spread that the Sikh community was conspiring against Hindus across the country. The Sikh faith of the Prime Minister’s bodyguards was used as a pretence to incite communal violence against the community. But it was not the masses of people who were carrying out the massacres – it was goons led by Congress party leaders, who were armed with electoral lists and knew exactly which houses were occupied by Sikhs! The menfolk, including young boys in several families were all murdered, many burnt alive. Women were mercilessly raped. The police were given specific instructions to permit the marauders to freely run amok. When Sikhs pleaded with the police to protect them, they were shoved aside. On the other hand, there are hundreds of instances where common people of other communities risked their very lives and sheltered Sikhs.
The mayhem continued for over three whole days in Delhi and elsewhere. Not only did the police not come to the rescue of Sikh citizens in danger of losing their lives, they refused to file cases against the marauders later. In the few cases that were in fact registered, investigation was deliberately shoddy and botched up so that those who committed the genocide could escape scot free. Clearly, as revealed by several investigative commissions, the whole genocide was planned and executed from the top echelons of the Central Government.
After the massacres, it was again the common citizens who organised relief camps and helped in the rehabilitation of the distressed Sikh families. Meanwhile, riding on the polarisation and politics of hatred, the Rajiv Gandhi led Congress party scored a landslide victory in the general elections conducted in December 1984, winning 404 of the 514 seats in the Lok Sabha! It is abundantly clear as to who benefited most from the genocide. Moreover, those police officers and bureaucrats who followed the orders of the powers that be, though they failed miserably in their duty to protect the people, were rewarded with plum postings and even lucrative jobs after retirement.
Justice-loving people have been consistently demanding that those responsible for the genocide must be punished. It is however a matter of deep shame that even thirty-six years later, hardly a handful of perpetrators were brought to book. These too were convicted not because of the efforts of the government agencies, but because of the dogged efforts of some of the survivors and human rights activists. No matter which party was in power, Congress / UPA or BJP / NDA, concerted efforts to bring the guilty to book were never made. Several Commissions of Enquiry were held – some to whitewash the genocide and others to assuage the feelings of the people. But none to give the people justice and to punish the guilty.
Massacres of the people of one community or another were organised several times over since then. Muslims were killed in riots organised in Mumbai and other parts of India in the aftermath of the criminal demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Again, Muslims were slaughtered in the Gujarat pogroms of 2002. In the communally charged state elections which followed this, Narendra Modi was elected once again as Chief Minister of Gujarat, just as Rajiv Gandhi was brought to power in the national elections following the genocide of the Sikhs in 1984. It can be said that the fact that the perpetrators of the genocide of the Sikhs in 1984 could get away only emboldened others to organise similar heinous crimes against the people time and again.
The Sikh genocide of 1984 showed how the ruling circles of India stop at nothing to capture and consolidate political power. It showed how the police, instead of being a force to protect the common citizens, is a force which aids crimes against humanity. Further, instead of ensuring justice for the victims of grave injustice, the ruling establishment ensures, together with the judicial system, that the perpetrators of heinous crimes against the people evade the punishment that is due to them and which would deter others from carrying out similar crimes against the people in future.
No organ of the state – whether executive, judiciary or legislature – has the interests of the common people at heart or can be relied upon to protect them in times of need. The Sikh genocide of 1984 is a stark reminder that people need to unite against communal violence. We need to come together and put forward the roadmap for the protection of the people of India against the fostering of communal divisions and suspicions by the ruling elite. We need to continue to fight for justice and for punishment to those guilty of organising the Sikh genocide if we wish to prevent such atrocities in times to come.