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D i s a r m i n g   S i k h s
T h e   p a t t e r n   o f    p o l i c e   c o m p l i c i t y

Given the fact that they have already been indicted by the Misra Commission, any further analysis of the complicity of the police in the 1984 carnage may seem academic. But that is far from the truth. For, Misra’s indictment of the police was ironically a cover-up of a collusion between the top brass of the police and the political establishment at the highest level. The whole point of the Misra report was to push the blame on to the lower ranks of the police, thereby diverting attention from the larger conspiracy. Misra no doubt recorded several police lapses – the failure to check large-scale killings, the delay in clamping curfew, the dithering on the question of calling in the Army. The problem however is, he attributed all such lapses to one rather simplistic concoction: The omission  of the police stations to communicate the gravity of the situation to their superior officers. 

In the process, the Misra Commission suppressed all evidence suggesting just the opposite: That the police in the field were only following instructions from above to help the mobs achieve their object of massacring Sikhs. The proceedings before the Nanavati Commission years later have helped uncover this vital evidence. The fresh inquiry has shown that police officers, right from the rank of the commissioner, behaved in much the same way almost everywhere in Delhi, indicating a clear pattern to their complicity in the carnage.  

The first priority of police officers seemed to be disarm Sikhs, even though it was they who were under attack and as such had a legal right to act in self defence. There were innumerable instances during the carnage when police officers ordered their men to divest the Sikhs of their traditional kirpans and licensed firearms. At several places, the police even arrested such Sikhs and booked cases against them while doing nothing with miscreants. In their written statements, top police officers, including commissioner S.C. Tandon, admitted taking action against Sikhs during the carnage.

What made Sikhs all the more vulnerable to the mobs was the attempt made by police officers to disperse their gatherings and force them to return to their houses. In many places, this prevented Sikhs from putting up any collective resistence. And soon after they were forced to return to their houses, those Sikhs fell prey to mobs, often under the gaze of the police.

There was also instances when the police went out of their way to break up inter-community peace committees set up in some localities. The object of the police was clearly to remove all hurdles from the path of marauding mobs.

The few places where Sikhs or peace committees refused to disperse, they succeeded in driving away rioters and protecting their localities. This underlines the fact that the police was often as much a threat as the rioters themselves.

The first FIR registered during the carnage in almost every police station was against Sikhs. The arrests made initially were also of Sikhs. In fact, in most places, including the worst affected east Delhi district, only Sikhs were arrested on November 1, the first day of the carnage. All this despite the fact that the killings were one-sided. 

Here are a few instances which bear out the above-mentioned pattern of police complicity. Let us begin with the role of police commissioner S.C. Tandon. The police records say that on November 1, two Sikhs fired at a mob from inside Motia Khan gurdwara in the central district of Delhi. They also admit that Tandon reached there with two batallions and both the Sikhs were arrested and booked under Section 307 IPC i.e. attempt to murder, though nobody from the mob was injured. Mahinder Singh Chikara, who was SHO of the Desh Bandhu Gupta Road police station in central district, told the Nanavati Commission that the gurdwara was burnt by the mob but only four out of some 4,000 rioters were arrested. 

The happenings at the historic Rakabganj gurdwara on the same day conformed to the pattern. Tandon reached there as well but by the time he did so, the mob had already burnt alive two Sikhs. Tandon was there with a big force, including additional commissioner Gautam Kaul. Yet, not a single member of the mob was arrested. Instead, a Sikh found in possession of a licensed weapon was arrested on the spot.  

An incident at Patel Nagar was even more revealing. A mob attacked the house of Group Captain M.S. Talwar, a Maha Vir Chakra winner in the 1971 war. Talwar fired in self defence. The police records show that Tandon and DCP Amod Kanth reached the spot. The police seized Talwar’s gun and ammunition and arrested him on the charge of murder as two members of the mob died due to his firing. Though Talwar was admittedly firing from inside his house, he was detained in Tihar Jail in C class for over a fortnight before he was released on judicial orders. SHO Amrik Singh Bhullar admitted before the Nanavati Commission that though there was a 2,000 strong mob near Talwar’s house, none of them was arrested because the police were outnumbered. 

Thus, Amod Kanth, who received a gallantry medal for arresting a family of Sikhs from Paharganj, was very much part of the trend of police officers going after the victims rather than the miscreants. Consider such instances from Inderpuri in west Delhi: One Kirpal Singh Chawla fired from his house at a mob trying to attack his family. But the police records say that he fled from his house in Inderpuri before Kanth reached there with a large force. The house was burnt by the mob. The police still booked Chawla on the charge of murder and he was in jail from many days. In another part of Inderpuri, one Harjinder Singh fired from his house. Kanth reached there with a large force, seized his gun and took him to the police station. This is borne out by police records. But Harjinder Singh went on to tell the Nanavati Commission that he was kept in the police lockup on the night of November 1 and released the next morning only after a phone call from Rashtrapati Bhawan, where a relative of his was posted. 

Police officers fared even worse in east Delhi, where 1,026 Sikhs were killed according to the Government. In the Kalyanpuri locality of east Delhi, DCP Seva Dass ordered the arrest of 25 Sikhs on November 1 while none was arrested from the mobs operating there. In Seelampur located in the same district, one Ram Singh was arrested simply because he fired in self defence. None from the mob was touched. In Trilokpuri, Sikhs gathered in a large number at a gurdwara on November 1. But SHO Soorvir Singh Tyagi forced them to returned to their houses.  Tyagi’s action paved the way for the massacre of over 300 Sikhs in Block 32 of Trilokpuri. 

The posh south Delhi presented a similar pattern. Bhogal has a sizable number of Sikhs, who are mostly involved in the transport business. They collected in front of their houses and were able to resist the mobs despite a lot of stone-throwing. The police who were present communicated the situation to DCP Chandra Prakash who ordered two platoons to be sent to the area and directed that the Sikhs be sent to their houses and if need be open fire at them. The directions recorded in wireless messages were silent on the need to take action against rioters. The police opened fire in the air forcing Sikhs to return to their houses. No action was taken against miscreants, who burnt over 100 trucks and buses and several houses and shops. 

Similarly, in the adjoining area of Harinagar Ashram, Sikh transporters came together and put up a stiff resistance. The police directed the Sikhs to go back to their houses. But the Sikhs did not budge even when the police opened fire at them. Chandra Prakash visited the area but did little to help the besieged Sikhs, who were left to their devices till the evening of November 2. Meanwhile, there were  attacks by huge mobs, at times numbering 5,000, but could not break down the defence of the Sikhs. On the evening of November 2, the Army reached there and erected a picket to protect Sikhs. The Army personnel told the Sikhs that they could not reach earlier because the police held them back from that area. Nevertheless, this is an instance when the Sikhs managed to defend themselves in the face of all the efforts by the police to help the mobs. 

There were similar success stories of self-defence from other places, including east Delhi.  For instance, in Lakshmi Nagar area of east Delhi, about 100 Sikhs assembled near a gurdwara with kirpans and lathis on the morning of November 1. They kept a mob at bay for over an hour while the policemen present watched passively. A riot victim called Gurmeet Singh deposed before the Nanavati Commission that around 11 am, local MP H.K.L. Bhagat arrived there in a convoy and was seen talking to the policemen. Some of his followers remained in that area even after Bhagat’s exit. The policemen then forced the Sikhs to go inside the gurdwara. But when the mob began to attack, the Sikhs rushed out to defend their homes and families. The mob ran away in the face of a strong counter attack.  

Bachittar Singh of Lajpat Nagar came up with an instance of a Hindu-Sikh joint effort in his locality to repel all attacks by mobs. Deposing before the Commission, he said a policeman tried to separate the Hindus from the Sikhs. But the Hindus, standing by their Sikh neighbours, told the police to disperse the mob. The police pleaded helplessness saying they had no orders to control the mob. 

These damaging allegations against senior police officers were confirmed by two Sikh policemen, who are now retired and have filed affidavits before the Nanavati Commission. Harbans Singh, who was a sub inspector in Jamunapuri police station during the carnage, said he was not allowed to go out of the police station during that period and neither was he assigned any duties. When he entered the wireless room, he noticed that wherever there were communications saying Sikhs were defending themselves, the police were ordered to take action against them. And where Sikhs were being killed, no direction was given to protect them. His revelations were borne out by the entries in the wireless logbooks which were produced subsequently before the Nanavati Commission. Hardhian Singh Shergil, who was ASI in CID, gave an equally revealing account of a visit he made to the wireless room of the Geeta Colony police station. He said he heard a number of wireless messages saying Sikhs were being attacked and found to his surprise that none of them was being recorded. When he enquired about it, the wireless operator there told Shergil that he had orders not to record messages about the attacks on Sikhs.