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Home > English > NEWS AND ANALYSIS > India’s Moral Cancer- Delhi’s November 1984 Sikh Genocide

India’s Moral Cancer- Delhi’s November 1984 Sikh Genocide

Sunday 3 November 2019, by Pritam Singh

It is 35 years back that the massacre of Sikhs took place mostly in Delhi but also in many North Indian towns in the first week of November to ‘teach them a lesson’ i.e. to beat them to submission before Hindu majoritarianism in India.

The deep wounds inflicted by that genocidal murder spree have not been healed because the Indian state, irrespective of the party that have controlled the power at the Centre since then, have done next to nothing to acknowledge this genocide and take steps to heal those wounds. On the contrary, every government in power at the Centre has hurled abuse at those within India or abroad who have tried to uncover truth and demand justice. If those uncovering truth happen to be Sikhs, an attempt is made to straight away terrorise them by labelling them Khalistanis, and if they happen to be non-Sikhs, which many of them are, they are abused as sympathisers of Khalistanis.

In this game of gross indifference verging on arrogance towards the sense of discrimination and alienation the Sikh community feels worldwide, both the two main Indian political parties – the Congress and BJP – have been guilty in one way or another.

Congress party’s Rajiv Gandhi, who became Prime Minister after the massacre, made his infamous speech on 19th November 1984 that when a big tree falls, the earth shakes. He was referring to his mother Indira Gandhi’ assassination by her two Sikh security guards who shot her dead because of her decision to send army to the Sikhs’ holiest shrine Golden Temple in Amritsar to deal with the crisis in Punjab. This was a calculated message being sent to the goons who had participated in the massacre of more than 3000 Sikh men and boys that their murderous acts were justified. The Congress party leaders who had led these goons into this murder and arson spree were also being lauded for ‘shaking the earth’.

What is less known than this criminal speech of Rajiv Gandhi is that his party had organised a massive media advertisement saying: “Why should you feel uncomfortable riding in a taxi driven by a taxi driver who belongs to another state?”

Since the Sikhs are known widely in Delhi as taxi drivers, this was directly aimed at provoking hatred against the Sikhs. This advertisement was paid for and circulated just a few days after the genocidal massacre had taken place. HKL Bhagat was promoted to Cabinet rank as a reward because the largest number of Sikhs slaughtered in any area in Delhi was in his East Delhi parliamentary constituency.

Even after 35 years of these genocidal murders (the word ‘genocide’ being used as defined by UNO), the parliament of the country has still not passed a resolution condoling those who died, leave aside condemning the massacre. Can one expect peace to prevail in a land where there is no remorse over those killings and where murderers are rewarded? Is it a wonder that another massacre (2002 in Gujarat) of another minority (Muslim) took place less than two decades after that?

Reports have now emerged that it was not only Congress led goons but that some RSS workers were also involved in this violence. Many Hindutva supporters were swayed into supporting Congress due to the Hindu card played by Indira Gandhi on Punjab. The distinction between a Hindutva organisation member or a Congress supporter which may have some relevance at other times had disappeared at that juncture. Congress had become the chief articulator of Hindutva sentiments and the sole beneficiary of Hindu mobilisation in the election in which Rajiv Gandhi surpassed even his grandfather Nehru in winning the seats to the parliament. This Hindu card played by Congress paved the way for the subsequent rise of BJP led Hindutva. Congress is in denial of its role in this rise of BJP led Hindutva.

I was in Chandigarh when Rajiv Gandhi led Congress had scored that unsurpassed parliamentary victory. An RSS activist known to me unhesitatingly acknowledged the Congress victory as Hindu mobilisation and facilitating Hindutva cause. He remarked very insightfully, ‘Organisationally the Congress has won, ideologically we have won”.

Dark Period

This is certainly the darkest period in India’s post-independence history where a genocide took place in the capital of the country with the state machinery conniving with the murderers. The critical reflection on this genocide have so far missed the aspect of moral degradation in Indian society in general but in Delhi in particular that has been the consequence of the silence and denial of this genocide.

Each Sikh man or boy who was killed must have been killed by a group of people. Even if we assume as a gross underestimate that on an average a mob of 10 killers was involved in each killing, the total number of murderers in Delhi works out to be 30,000. Whenever any family member is involved in a killing, the family and close relatives always come to know about it in one way or another. Even if we assume a low figure of 10 family members and relatives knowing this crime, this means 300,000 (3 lakh) persons knew about this crime. So, all these 35 years, 30,000 murderers have lived in Delhi keeping the secret of their crime to themselves and their close family members and relatives, and all these 3 lakh persons have lived with this knowledge of the crime. Many of these murderers and their family members would be involved in performing public duties in security services, transport, health, education, post offices, prisons, education and media. They would have obviously lied in not reporting their crime.

Not even a single case has come to light where, leave aside a murderer making a confession of his crime, a family member has come forward and reported to the police that a certain member of the family had committed the crime. It is not difficult to imagine the depth of moral degradation of Delhi’s everyday life as a result of this mass crime. Outwardly, the society seems to be carrying on with the daily life cycle but beneath that apparent normalcy are a very large number of damaged human being-criminals and liars.

Only through a mass atonement for this mass crime can there be a small possibility of beginning the path to mass therapy. Otherwise, living with this crime without redemption would lead to it becoming a moral cancer in Delhi society and beyond.

Prof Pritam Singh is a Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK. He is the author of ‘Federalism, Nationalism and Development: India and the Punjab Economy‘ (Routledge, London, 2008), Economy, Culture and Human Rights: Turbulence in Punjab, India and Beyond (Three Essays Collective, Delhi, 2010), Hindu Bias in Indian Constitution (Critical Quest, Delhi, 2017), Institutional Communalism in India (Critical Quest, Delhi, 2019) and co-editor with S Thandi of ‘Punjabi Identity in a Global Context‘ (Oxford University Press, 1999) and with M Pearl of ‘Equal Opportunities in the Curriculum‘ (Oxford Brookes University, 1999).